New RFID Cards for the Masses

By Bob Violino

Rafsec has introduced RFID inlays that can be used to make inexpensive contactless smart cards for transit tickets.


Nov. 25, 2002 – Rafsec, a subsidiary of Finland’s UPM-Kymmene Corp., has been investing heavily in research and development. The strategy may soon pay off. The company has introduced three new products for card and ticket producers. And next year it will ramp up production of low-cost RFID antennas using a new high-speed process.

The new products are essentially packaging technologies for RFID transponders that the company says will make it possible for makers of conventional magnetic stripe and PVC cards to produce contactless cards more cheaply. The hope is that this will spread the technology to fare collection and other ticketing applications where conventional contactless cards have been too costly.

Flexticket is an RFID transponder with a polyester facing. It is more durable than Rafsec’s Ecoticket, which has a paper facing. The Ecoticket can be used for day passes on buses or subways, while the new Flexticket is durable enough to be used for a monthly transit pass or a short-term access card. It’s designed to fill the gap between low-cost mag-stripe cards and contactless PVC cards.

Rafsec’s Flexcard is designed to be a less expensive alternative to conventional PVC contactless smart cards. Rafsec produces it in a high-speed roll-to-roll process, which is faster and less expensive than conventional sheet production. Rafsec converts the rolls into sheets later, so card producers can add printed layers and stamp out cards as they currently do. The new card is also about 20 percent thinner than most PVC cards.

“[Card makers] can purchase the sheets from us and probably produce a card at 30 percent less cost than a conventional PVC card,” says Peter Gawley, Rafsec’s VP of sales and marketing. “The idea is to open up a new niche in that particular market for contactless plastic cards that doesn’t exist today.”

Avantcard is a sheet of transponders. The card producer adds the PVC layers, the printed layers and then put them in the card press and stamps them out. Rafsec has developed a new format, in which the chips are bonded to an etched antenna using a flip-chip process with adhesive coatings on each side of the sheet. Normally wound copper wire antennas are bonded to an IC module and encased in an inlay.

The new products can be delivered with virtually any microchip the card producer would like to use. The standard format includes microchips from Philips and STMicroelectronics that are compliant with the major smart cards standards, ISO14443 A and B. The new products are available immediately.

“There is huge demand in Europe and Asia, and almost no demand in U.S.,” says Gawley. “These cards are used in contactless ticketing applications, and the U.S. been the slowest to adopt the technology. Asia is most advanced, and we are very interested in that market.”

Gawley says that Rafsec will begin commercial production of low-cost antennas that take advantage of a new high-speed additive process next year. “The machinery is in and is being run up,” Gawley says. “We will begin using it commercially as soon as it is robust and it is the same cost or lower cost than traditional etching techniques.”

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