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PolyIC Announces Printable RFID Prototypes

PolyIC claimed a breakthrough in the development of printable RFID tags with the announcement that its printing process has successfully produced miles of prototype rolls of 13.56 MHz integrated circuits.
Sep 28, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 28, 2006—PolyIC reached a literal and figurative milestone this week in its efforts to develop and commercialize printable RFID tags. The Germany-based company announced it has printed "miles" of rolls of 13.56 MHz RFID integrated circuits (ICs) using a roll-to-roll printing process. Managing Director Wolfgang Mildner told RFID Update the prototypes are "...the next step in the evolution of printed RFID tags" and that the company plans to begin commercially producing printed circuits next year.

Printed RFID ICs (also called "organic," "chipless" and "polymer-based" tags) are made with conductive ink that can store and transmit data. They are not produced by semiconductor manufacturing methods but instead with common commercial printing processes such as flexographic, rotogravure, offset or rotary screen using special inks and materials. Developers say printable ICs can be produced much more cheaply than traditional fabricated RFID chips and antennas.

Despite the potential cost advantage, Mildner cautioned printable RFID tags should not currently be viewed as a disruptive technology.

"The expectation should not be that printable ICs are a substitute for existing silicon products," said Mildner. "It is an extension of the current silicon industry, not a replacement."

Nonetheless, earlier this month NanoMarkets predicted the printable electronics industry will explode from 2007 to 2011, growing from $354 million to $12.1 billion in that span. Printable RFID is predicted to become a more than $2.5 billion market.

PolyIC's prototypes have only eight bits of memory and have not been produced to any international standards. They were produced by printing polymer-electronic components applied to foil-based antennas. Mildner said the company's product roadmap is to eventually develop products with enough memory to encode 96-bit Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers, but that further developments in materials and production processes are needed to enable higher memory. These developments could take several years.

"It is not a product for volume production," said Mildner. "We are concentrating on quality control and on improving production processes. We are also looking forward to seeing improvements in materials and equipment."

For now, PolyIC is targeting product authentication, security and certain transportation and logistics applications that don't have high tag memory requirements. Mildner confirmed the company is conducting several pilots, but would not provide details on security or anti-counterfeiting projects. Texas Instruments recently released a white paper describing how RFID can be used for product authentication to fight the estimated $450 billion worldwide counterfeiting industry.

More details are available about PolyIC's activities in transportation and logistics. The company is participating in the German government-funded PRISMA project that is researching how RFID technologies could be used for baggage tracking, ticketing and document security in transportation. Lufthansa is among the PRISM participants and will field test printed 13.56 MHz tags for baggage logistics. The three-year project launched last September.

Mildner emphasized considerable progress must be made before printable RFID becomes a mainstream alternative to traditional RFID silicon. The significance of this week's announcement, he said, is not that printable RFID is close to mass-market commercialization, but that major progress is being made.

"Printed electronics has been considered a sci-fi technology so far," said Mildner. "The technology is entering the mature stage, but it is still a very young technology. We have made an important step, but there are still many more steps that have to be taken."

PolyIC was formed in 2003 as a joint venture between Siemens and Leonhard Kurz & Co., a hot stamping and coating specialist (see Cheap Plastic RFID Chips Move a Step Closer to Reality).

Further updates on printable RFID technology will be presented at two upcoming conferences: Organic RFID 2006 from October 11th to 13th in San Diego, California, and Printed Electronics USA 2006 on December 5th and 6th in Phoenix, Arizona.

Read the announcement from PolyIC
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