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Flint Ink Sets Up RFID Antenna Unit

The company's conductive-inks division formulates a new name and new plans.
By Bob Violino
Aug 26, 2003Aug. 27, 2003 - Flint Ink, the world's second largest producer of commercial inks, has revealed the name of a previously announced unit charged with developing conductive inks that can be used for RFID antennas, printed electronics and smart packaging. The unit is called Precisia, and it already has trials for its conductive inks underway with RFID tag manufacturers, including Alien Technology and RT Circuits, as well as with a number of packaging and labeling specialists.
Precisia's Rohrkemper

Conductive inks contain particles of conductive silver and/or carbon that enable them to serve as channels for the wireless flow of electronic signals. That makes it an alternative for copper in the antennas used in RFID tags, albeit a less-conductive alternative. Precisia says its inks can be used to print RFID tag antennas that deliver 70 to 90 percent of the read range of a copper RFID antenna. But it says its antennas are 20 to 30 percent less expensive than copper antennas.

Flint plans to invest several million dollars over the next three years in Precisia, a wholly owned subsidiary. The unit will be located in its own facility—the Precisia Printed Electronics Resource Center, located about 10 miles from Flint's worldwide headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center is set to open for business by the end of the year. Until then, Precisia and its new staff of 12 (evenly split between technical and sales) will continue to operate using facilities at Flint's headquarters.

Flint announced its plans to spin out its conductive inks business back in January of this year and named key executives in June. Since those announcements, Precisia executives say the new unit's potential has grown dramatically.

"We see a number of markets emerging for conductive inks, but RFID is the first," says Precisia's president, Jim Rohrkemper. "It's now and it will be the largest volume market for conductive inks by far."

The other markets for conductive inks are smart packaging, printed electronics and, further out, lighting and displays.

Because new conductive inks developed at the center can be quickly pressed and tested within the same facility, Precisia will be able to speed new products to market, according to Rohrkemper. Right now Precisia, which is operating out of its parent company's headquarters, uses Flint's presses. But that arrangement means that Precisia must share the resources. "In the new facility, that problem won't occur because we'll have dedicated equipment," says Rohrkemper."The time to develop successful trials will go from weeks and months to hours and days."

The resource center will have ink formulation labs and facilities for doing small-, medium- and large-scale proofing of new products, a state-of-the-art pressroom and other advanced technology. Once the resource center is operational, Precisia maintains it will be able to speed the design of conductive ink as well as develop printing methods for customers to adopt.

"The facility means we can offer customers cost avoidance and risk aversion by developing 85 percent of their production system before they implement production," says Dan Lawrence, Precisia's director of technology and commercialization.

The new center is set to open for business by the end of the year. Until then, Precisia and its new staff of 12 (evenly split between technical and sales) will continue to operate using facilities at Flint's headquarters.

Precisia aims to build on Flint's position as one of the first makers of conductive inks. The new company has already taken over all of Flint's existing RFID business as well as its conductive inks for other printed electronics applications.

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