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Uniqarta Seeks to Commercialize Solution for Embedding Ultrathin RFID Chips in Paper

The startup says its process is less cumbersome and expensive than other alternatives, and that it is working with a paper manufacturer on a prototype of its first-generation process.
By Claire Swedberg

Standard RFID chips etched out of wafers tend to measure at least 100 to 125 microns in thickness, which means that paper must be thick in order to accommodate the chip, or else there will be a discernible bump in the paper. Companies could shave the wafers to make thinner chips, but a chip that measures less than about 75 microns in thickness is too flimsy for the mechanical pick-and-place method used to place chips within inlays. That, as well as the cost of conventional RFID labels, makes the RFID-tagging of some items impractical.

With LEAP, the chips could be thinned to only 20 microns or less, and then be applied via laser technology instead of pick-and-place. However, Uniqarta has not yet scaled up the LEAP process to accommodate standard inlay-manufacturing equipment configured to the company's specifications. What's more, Uniqarta is still developing the laser-based system that would enable the fast transfer of very thin chips to the paper layer.

Uniqarta's Ronn Kliger
In the interim, Uniqarta plans to offer its first-gen version that uses some of technology developed by the NDSU group for the LEAP system. In this effort, the firm has partnered with a paper company that has asked to remain unnamed. The company is working with Uniqarta to create prototypes of the RFID-embedded paper products that the firm would offer to packaging companies or brands that wanted RFID capability in their packaging. The prototypes involve chips that are thinned to about 20 microns, with the thinning process provided by a third-party company. The inlay would be made with an ultra-thin aluminum antenna, known as the Pantenna, provided by Finnish company Walki (see Walki Launches Service Using Lasers to Make Tag Antennas).

With the first-gen solution, the thinned wafer is attached to a "handle" with a heat-release adhesive. The wafer is then applied to dicing tape, and ICs are cut using a dicing saw. The IC and handle are next transferred to the paper substrate via pick-and-place, after which heat is applied to the adhesive to release the IC from its handle, and to paste it onto the substrate and antenna.

Kliger says his company's technology could be used for more than just packaging for consumer products. It could also be utilized to embed RFID inlays in banknotes, legal documents, tickets or plastic credit cards, as well as in smart labels to prove an item's authenticity. Additionally, the technology could be employed to embed Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID inlays into printed materials.

For its first-generation process, Uniqarta has used Mühlbauer equipment to demonstrate ultra-thin inlay manufacturing. However, Kliger notes, the inlay's embedding is accomplished on a papermaking machine.

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