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Service Bureau, IC Company Team Up on Low-Cost Printed Labels

Smooth & Sharp Corp. offers 13.56 MHz HF or NFC labels, converted from PragmatIC's flexible, low-cost integrated circuits, for easy picking and placement on brand packaging.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 17, 2018

Several packaging companies in Asia have begun testing a new low-cost Near Field Communication (NFC) label solution, customized to their needs, with labels that have a built-in flexible, ultra-thin IC intended to make the picking of RFID tags and their placement onto packaging easier than with standard RFID labels. The label itself will have little impact on the packaging.

Smooth & Sharp Corp. (S&S) and PragmatIC are collaborating to develop a new low-cost NFC and HF label manufacturing solution with PragmatIC's flexible IC and a printed antenna. The system can be customized for mass production in labels or on packaging.

FlexICs are designed to be thin and bendable to enable a single antenna layer.
S&S, a tag manufacturing service provider, has built and tested a flip-chip machine to accommodate PragmatIC's chips, known as FlexICs, which will enable fast throughput and, therefore, low assembly costs. The FlexICs are designed to be thin and bendable, in order to enable a single antenna layer, and can be attached to paper or plastic inlays. The inlays produced by S&S with the FlexICs operate at 13.56 MHz for NFC and HF products, says Gillian Ewers, PragmatIC's marketing VP, while UHF labels are expected to follow.

S&S is a Taiwan-based tag manufacturing service provider. The company specifies and customizes labels for packaging companies, according to Alan Wu, S&S's CEO, that are increasingly attaching or embedding NFC or HF labels into the packaging they sell to customers. "We can convert an inlay into a label," Wu states, and packaging companies use S&S's services to create labels they can then attach to products to meet the specifications of their own clients, such as product brands. "Our solution is modulized," he says, and can include a standard IC or FlexIC. Its manufacturing solutions can operate with both aluminum and printed antennas.

PragmatIC, launched approximately a decade ago, has been working for years to develop a flexible chip. It partners with companies such as Avery Dennison, as well as now with S&S, to provide a full solution for those buying and using the RFID labels.

"The end users want the whole system with the chip, the inlay, the software and everything to go with it," Ewers says. "This is why we partner with people like Avery, and now S&S, to bring the whole ecosystem together." S&S can manufacture up to 4,200 UHF RFID labels per hour with the FlexIC.

The announcement comes at a time when the NFC market is growing, Ewers says. "There's been quite a bit of change in the market over the last year," she adds. Since Apple is opening access to NFC functionality in its iOS devices, brands are increasingly testing or deploying NFC-based solutions for customer loyalty, authentication or other product-management purposes.

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