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Inlay-Laminating Process for E-Passports

A U.K. company claims it has developed a unique process for embedding an RFID inlay that protects the inlay against physical damage and counterfeiting.
By Jonathan Collins
Feb 11, 2005A spin-off of U.K. smart card specialist Burall-InfoSmart claims to have developed a breakthrough technological process for integrating RFID inlays in electronic passports that makes the inlay more resistant to physical harm and counterfeiting. The spin-off company, Brite iD, says it has spent more than five years developing a unique adhesiveless process that embeds an RFID inlay into a passport page or cover. Although formed to target the e-passport market, the company says it will eventually use its technology to produce electronic ID and other smart cards.

Brite iD's process, dubbed iLam, embeds an RFID inlay by means of a polyester-based elastomer core, or middle layer, that is sealed under heat and pressure to two outer layers without adhesive. In this process, those outer layers can be either the security paper used to construct passport pages or the thicker paper used to make the passport cover.

"Most laminating works by heating from the outside, but iLam reverses that process by introducing the central core of the laminate as a soft liquid component around the inlay, and this means we can get very good strength without adhesive," says Paul Bagnall, managing director of Brite iD, which is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. In a single process, that central core is bonded to the two outer layers to create single sheet of laminated paper embedded with an RFID inlay.

A number of governments are looking at the potential of e-passports, which will store a passport holder's personal data on an RFID tag. The U.S. Department of State has already said that in the second quarter of 2005, it expects to issue the first e-passports, and by early 2006, it hopes that all the passports it issues (about 7 million annually) will carry RFID chips. The U.S. Government Printing Office is in the process of evaluating RFID tags from eight competing vendors (see ASK, Others, Picked for E-Passport Test). According to Brite iD, its iLam process can work with any RFID chip and antenna design.

Another advantage of iLam, says Brite iD, is that the flexibility of the core material between the security paper sheets and surrounding the inlay can protect the inlay from physical damage better than conventional lamination. For conventional lamination, a "hole" is normally made in the internal lamination sheets to house the inlay, whereas iLam's molten elastomeric core material flows around the inlay, fully encapsulating it in a flexible protective casing and bonding the entire structure together.

In addition, because no adhesive is used, Brite iD believes its process helps deter counterfeiters from replacing the RFID inlay that is embedded within an e-passport. Counterfeiters can freeze or heat adhesives to separate the outside layers of laminates made with glue—and then illegally replace the inlay. But because iLam uses no adhesives, any attempt to remove the chip would cause irreparable damage to the passport page.

Brite iD says that its technology can be applied to embed an RFID inlay into either a passport page or a cover, depending on the preference of the issuing government. Once the inlay has been embedded, all the security features of the paper remain visible and the page can still be printed or engraved with identifying information about the passport holder, as usual. One or both sides of the passport page can also be embossed with a 3D image.

A further benefit of the iLam process is that because Brite iD will provide laminated security already embedded with an RFID inlay, iLam laminates can be used in a standard passport production line without any modification to the existing production process; other inlay-embedding systems can require a passport maker to add a lamination station to glue the inlay to the cover material.

Now that the company has finished development work on iLam, Brite iD is preparing a number of trials to highlight the benefits of its technology. The company expects to have results from the trials within the next two to three months.

In July, Brite iD plans to open a secure manufacturing plant in the United Kingdom that will be capable of embedding tens of millions of RFID inlays a year. The company will use its iLam technique to produce the inlay-embedded e-passport pages and covers that will be included in finished passports produced by companies specializing in producing secure printed products such as passports and banknotes. Brite iD will also license its technology for situations where governments insist on greater control over the production of e-passports.
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