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RFID-Enabled Boxes Inch Closer to Production

With fully printable tags still years away, companies are designing methods of manufacturing RFID-enabled packaging that will work today.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
The Kernel inlay is about 1 inch square, Barash explains, and when attached, via conductive adhesive, to the printed antenna on the outside of a cardboard box, the resulting inlay-antenna tag can be read from up to 23 feet away. The companies have prototype boxes they've demonstrated at recent conferences.

According to Barash, Parelec and Tagsys plan on initiating a pilot project to test the boxes in a real-world environment this coming fall. A successful pilot test, they hope, will lead to demand for the technology from packaging manufacturers.

A prototype of an RFID-enabled box showing a Tagsys Kernel inlay and an antenna printed with Parelec ink.

Yeon Technologies was founded in the fall of 2006 by YFY Group, a large conglomerate of Chinese businesses that includes packaging material manufacturer Yuen Foong Yu Paper. Nancy Tai, CEO of Yeon Technologies, says the company plans to announce the details and availability of its Smart Box product in the second half of 2007.

The approach developed by Yeon, says Tai, consists of embedding an entire Gen 2 inlay into the corrugate material being produced. This is a less costly approach than those that entail printing an antenna onto the packaging, she says, because it is a single-step process and conductive inks are costly and still being developed.

"We evaluated a system for printing the antenna and then adding a chip, but there are problems," she says. For one thing, Yeon has not yet identified a high-speed antenna-printing process, which she says packaging materials manufacturers need to keep production levels high. Yeon is currently using Alien Technology's Squiggle inlay, as well as models from Raflatac, to test its smart-box design.

In prototype tests, Tai notes, the RFID smart boxes have been highly functional, even when the contents are made of materials unfriendly to RF. "We tested it on a box containing 40 foil-based drink boxes, and it worked," she says. Yeon Technologies is currently working closely with Yuen Foong Yu Paper to refine its embedding process, she says, and evaluating a few different embedding systems. Yeon Technology plans to license its smart-box technology to Yuen Foong Fu and other materials manufacturers as soon as it the technology is ready for production rollouts.

Under both the Parelec-Tagsys and Yeon Technologies systems, once the boxes come off the manufacturing line, the inlays are ready to be encoded and end users can apply whatever bar-coded shipping labels they currently use. As such, consumer packaged goods companies that would later employ these boxes for tracking goods would not need to use any special label-application processes, which companies generally currently must use to apply RFID-enabled labels today.

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