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TI, Smurfit-Stone Demo RFID-Enabled Cases

Texas Instruments and packaging manufacturer Smurfit-Stone have jointly devised a prototype cardboard case with an integrated RFID tag for the consumer packaged goods sector.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 01, 2006RFID tag maker Texas Instruments Radio Frequency Identification Systems (TI-RFiD) and Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., the Chicago-based paperboard and packaging product manufacturer, have codeveloped a prototype of what they call "strap-on-box" packaging. The prototype consists of a corrugated cardboard case containing an integrated RFID inlay made with an antenna printed directly into the case with conductive ink, and an RFID strap attached to the printed antenna with a conductive adhesive. The walls of the corrugated cardboard case have three layers: an interior-facing layer (the carton, or linerboard layer), a middle layer of corrugate and an exterior layer of linerboard. Situated between the inner layer and the corrugate, the inlay is well-protected.

The tiny bow-tie-shaped strap consists of an integrated circuit and two conductive pads. In the future, the companies predict that using packaging materials with an integrated RFID tag such as the TI/Smurfit-Stone prototype could save consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies labor and materials costs since doing so would eliminate the need to purchase separate RFID labels and place them on the cases.

"This box is a vision of a product to come—something like a concept car," says Joseph LeBlanc, vice-president of research and development for Smurfit-Stone. To bring the product into large-scale production now, he says, would require "substantially more demand, in orders of magnitude, than the current amount of demand for smart labels." Still, he adds, having proven the concept is an important step. Straps enable higher-volume, lower-cost manufacturing compared with full RFID inlays because fewer materials and steps are required.

"We've had engineering samples of these straps for 18 months," reports Tony Sabetti, director of UHF/retail supply chain at TI-RFiD. "This is the first demo of a utilization of a strap with an antenna printed direct on packaging."

Sabetti notes that recent advancements in the quality and consistency of conductive inks have made a difference in the readability of the strap-on-box inlays. He adds that straps enable users to create inlays—either through a process such as the TI-RFiD/Smurfit-Stone's strap-on-box approach, or through a label conversion process, in which an antenna is printed onto a label and the strap is then attached to it—without needing a clean room, required when doing a direct attachment of an integrated circuit to an antenna. For this reason, he says, a number of label converters have expressed interest in the TI strap.

According to LeBlanc, despite the low demand for RFID-integrated packaging today, Smurfit-Stone has done this early work to develop a prototype, knowing that demand will rise as tagging mandates and the number of goods that must be tagged continue to grow. "Major consumer packaged goods companies are going to have to move to this approach," he says.
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