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By Beth Bacheldor

U.K.'s Centre for Process Innovation Heads Up NFC Packaging Project

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), established in 2004 by the U.K. government, has announced a new three-year project known as SCOPE, aimed at building the manufacturing capability, capacity and skills required to commercialize smart products with printed Near Field Communication (NFC) sensors. In addition, CPI reports, SCOPE will help to position the United Kingdom as a world leader in the production of those products.

According to CPI, NFC is emerging as a technology for a variety of applications, such as providing product differentiation on fast-moving consumer goods, tracking or indicating the authenticity of a product in logistics, and anti-tampering controls, which also provides data-management information. Using printable electronics, companies will one day be able to produce NFC tags in high volumes, at low costs and with conformable geometries. However, CPI notes, in order for these products to reach retailers, technological innovation is required to develop the supply chain to facilitate the price points and market volumes that the industry needs for mass market adoption.

SCOPE's aim, according to CPI, is to develop new processes, equipment and applications to enable the high-volume manufacturing (billions or even trillions) of printed electronic components used to make NFC tags. The project is providing a technology platform for the development of new functionalities, applications, and specialist skills and capabilities. A key emphasis of the project, the firm adds, is to apply highly automated and high-speed integration techniques to meet target costs of less than one cent per NFC tag.

The consortium comprises 14 partners across the U.K.'s packaging supply chain, including Unilever, Hasbro and Crown Packaging, along with product supply chain companies Andrews & Wykeham and Mercian Labels. Additionally, the consortium unites complementary technical expertise in the production of flexible integrated circuits (PragmatIC), the automation of processes (Optek), ferrite materials (the University of Kent), electronics design (Silvaco), polymer substrates (Innovia), inks (Invotec and CPI), NFC know-how (NFS) and systems integration (CPI and PragmatIC). The British Print Industry Federation is supporting dissemination for the project, linking the supply chain together and providing end-user feedback on the technology's market readiness.

The project covers multiple application sectors, such as fast-moving consumer goods, beverages, games and security, according to CPI, and provides a platform to develop second-generation opportunities within other key U.K. sectors, including health care, food, energy, built-environment, defense and transport. Currently, the firm reports, initial concepts are being developed around low-cost, high-volume, printed logic circuits for integration into labels for smart packaging and product branding on fast-moving consumable goods.

To date, says Mike Clausen, CPI's program manager, the consortium has worked closely to produce a range of NFC product concepts that integrate logic circuits produced on flexible substrates. Next steps will be to scale up the manufacturing process to ensure that the NFC applications are produced at the cost and speeds industry demands. To do this, Clausen explains, the consortium is currently developing the capability to produce market trial samples of up to 50,000 to 100,000 tags.

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