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Printed RFID Tags Still Several Years Away

Industry leaders at the Printed RFID conference agreed that much research remains to be done before printed tags become commercially available and can be printed directly on packaging.
By Rhea Wessel
Jun 12, 2007At IntertechPira's Printed RFID conference, held earlier this month in Frankfurt, Germany, industry leaders said that although the technology required for printing RFID tags is slowly maturing, a good deal of research still remains to be done before printed tags can be offered commercially—and before they can be printed directly onto packaging. Once these two milestones are achieved—at a reasonable price—analysts believe RFID tagging will become pervasive throughout supply chains for almost every type of good.

Klaus Dimmler, conference chairman and founder of OrganicID—which is working to develop a low-cost technology to produce printable electronic RFID tags made with organic inks—summed up the feeling in the air by saying, "The industry is making good progress on materials. They're looking better and better." Dimmler added that printed antennas are now standard fare, with some companies beginning to demonstrate circuits created with polymers in clean-room environments.

Klaus Dimmler
Another company developing printed RFID tags is PolyIC. The firm's managing director, Wolfgang Mildner, told conference attendees that PolyIC has created two organic 13.56 MHz RFID tags in a clean room: one with 32 bits of memory, the other with 64 bits. The company says it is the first to produce such tags made of polymers.

"We have shown that we can produce high-memory circuits—up to 64 bits—with polymer materials in a clean-room process," said Bettina Bergbauer, a company spokesperson. For PolyIC and others, she explained, the problem remains how to use printing technology to manufacture these circuits in high volumes, at low costs.

"The printing methodology will make or break the industry," Dimmler said, "because you've got to get that low cost." He added that researchers have not yet even agreed which printing method offers the most promise.

Raghu Das, an analyst for IDTechEx, also spoke at the conference. Das predicted that most of the 1.91 billion passive and active tags purchased in 2007 will not be printed at all, though antennas and other UHF tag parts might be. However, he claimed, nearly 50 percent of the 670 billion tags purchased in 2017 will be fully printed.

Rudimentary printed RFID tags can already be found in some commercial products. HurraFussball, a game created by Germany's Menippos, includes trading cards each bearing a printed RF tag encoded with a 16-bit ID number. Menippos purchased the technology from Printed Systems, based in Chemnitz, Germany. Das and Printed Systems are calling the tag a printed RFID tag despite its limited memory capability; the tags have just 16 bits of read-only memory, so the number of unique numbers available for encoding a tag's ID is limited to 65,536. Printed Systems sells the tags together with low-cost interrogators.

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