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Printed RFID Nearing Commercialization, Study Says

By 2010 manufacturers will be able to produce reliable printed RFID tags in quantities sufficient for commercial tracking and product authentication applications, according to a new report from NanoMarkets. The research firm predicts printed RFID sales will grow from $21.8 million in 2008 to $3.6 billion in 2015.
Mar 24, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 24, 2008—Low-cost RFID tags that are printed, rather than assembled, could be used for inventory management, logistics management, and item identification applications as early as 2010, according to a new research report from NanoMarkets, a market research firm in Glen Allen, Virginia.

"The takeaway from this report is that the technology is now at the point where product designers can seriously consider using printed RFID, even given its current performance limitations," NanoMarkets analyst Lawrence Gasman told RFID Update. He is lead author of the report, Printable Electronics Outlook: Printed RFID.

Printed RFID, also referred to as "organic" or "plastic" RFID, is a method of producing tags by printing electronic inks that have characteristics similar to those found in the standard silicon microchips. The electronic ink eliminates the need for a chip, which has the potential to reduce cost dramatically.

Current printed RFID tags can't match the memory, range, or speed of traditional silicon-based tags, and likely won't by 2010, according to Gasman. Because of their limited functionality, printed RFID tags are mostly being considered for product authentication and other applications where only limited data encoding and read range are necessary, he said. Gasman expects other applications to emerge as potential users become more familiar with the technology.

"We've reached the point where these things work," Gasman said. "A retailer or a technology provider is going to find a way to use them. Somebody is going to think of something very clever."

Printed RFID sales are projected to more than double annually each year from 2008 to 2015, according to the report. Revenues are forecast to grow from $21.8 million in 2008 to $3.6 billion in 2015, for a compound annual growth rate of 107.4 percent. Tag costs could also fall dramatically during that time, according to the study. NanoMarkets predicted the average cost for a printed RFID tag will be about 4 cents in 2008.

"There are a lot of challenges to the development of this technology. Number one is cost," said Gasman. "Silver is a material that is used in printable electronics and works very well for RFID antennas. The price of silver has doubled in the past year. Reducing cost isn't necessarily getting easier."

Other challenges Gasman cited include the pace at which the overall RFID market will grow, improvements needed to printable electronic production techniques, and performance improvements for printed RFID tags, especially for UHF frequencies.

"Printed RFID is the kind of product that will have a lot of teething problems, but there are no problems in the underlying physics," said Gasman. "Chemists will tell you there is no reason there can't be a polymer that runs RFID at very high speeds. But, I'm not sure that we've found it yet."

There is considerable current worldwide research and development into printable electronics materials and techniques, both directly and indirectly related to RFID, Gasman said. Earlier this month a public-private partnership in Germany announced it committed funds for a three-year project to research printable electronics materials (see Printable RFID Research Gets $23M Investment).

See NanoMarkets' announcement
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