Smallest UHF RFID Inlay Wins RFID Journal New Product Award

Avery Dennison Smartrac’s AD Dot inlay measures just four by four millimeters and is designed for tracking very small goods such as wearable electronics, cosmetics and drugs.
Published: May 26, 2022

Companies are testing what is reported to be the smallest UHF RFID inlay to date, to track compact goods, from cosmetics to wearable electronics. Avery Dennison Smartrac’s AD Dot, which features an antenna that is just three by three millimeters (0.12 by 0.12 inches), is intended for use on products or assets that have traditionally been too tiny to tag with RFID.

The Dot’s diminutive size makes it possible to be permanently built into — or applied to – an item, including pocket-sized products, rather than on a hangtag that is removed after purchase, the company says. That means it can be used to identify or authenticate a product for pre-sale inventory management and also used for reverse logistics, such as when an item is returned by a customer, says Michael Sanders, the company’s VP of sales and business development. The AD Dot UHF Inlay won the Best New Product award for 2022 at RFID Journal LIVE! in Las Vegas on May 19.

The new tag is commercially available and is being tested or deployed by companies that make healthcare, electronics and industrial products. The new tag was developed in collaboration with an Avery Dennison customer that needed a way to identify its products with a very small form factor label, Sanders says. That company has asked to be unnamed.

Smaller, more sensitive chips as well as improved antenna designs, have enabled companies to offer smaller tags of varying sizes and shapes. A common RFID inlay size for a hangtag that would be used for apparel is about three inches by one inch.

The AD Dot is a fraction of that size and flexible (as opposed to rigid RFID tags). Its die-cut size as an inlay is four by four millimeters  (allowing for the margin size needed around the antenna)  and can be applied or built into small items where previous RFID tags were too large for customer applications, says Sanders.

One-on-One RFID Tag Interaction

Typically, the size of the antenna affects a tag’s read range, so that smaller tags offer a shorter read range than their larger counterparts. While a standard sized UHF RFID tag can be read at 15 meters or more, the Dot tag’s read range is only a few centimeters. Therefore, it is intended for one-on-one identification as opposed to bulk reads in a warehouse or store shelf, for example. That makes it ideal for processes such as returns and product authentication.

The returnable stream of products is growing as customers continue to purchase goods online and can then return those goods for a refund or exchange if it doesn’t meet their expectations.  Handling of returned goods places demand on warehouse and retail personnel as items need to be identified, inspected and possibly repaired before reselling.

Typically, hangtags are removed from such products before they are returned, making RFID tags only usable until the product is purchased. In the case of the AD Dot, however, tags could be hidden within a small space of a product, such as the case of a watch or mobile phone. With an RFID tag that remains on the product for its lifetime, individuals would then have a permanent means to have their product uniquely identified.

The tag could also be used for authentication on products such as vials or pill bottles of medication. Tools used in surgical procedures or jewelry could also be tracked with the new inlay.

Not only are RFID inlays getting smaller, so too are some consumer electronics that could benefit from the automatic identification and authentication the RFID tag could provide, Sanders points out. “Consumer electronics such as wearables are getting smaller and smaller.”

His hope for the product, Sander says, it that it will be widely adopted for identification of consumer electronics, and two-way transaction with consumers, as well as for automating the returns process.

RFID Journal Best New Product

RFID technology and solutions development has extended into broader markets, says Avery Dennison Smartrac’s DJ Lee, director of industry sales, (although the greatest adoption rates have been in the apparel retail market).  “We have been focusing on product development and inlay designs that meet the broadening applications for RFID,” he said at a presentation of the product at RFID Journal LIVE! 2022 in Las Vegas. Innovation has included products for the healthcare and pharmaceutical market. Additionally, consumer electronics companies have been investigating automatic identification of items as small as ear buds.

Technology has been developing faster over recent years, he said, to meet the needs of these  vertical industries. “That has been very exciting for Avery Dennison,” says Lee. The AD Dot, leverages various ICs available in the market today.

There is a variety of other use cases for an RFID inlay of this size, Sanders points out, some of which may be unanticipated. However, Lee noted that because the tag is so small, with a relatively short read range, it would operate well in applications in which a consumable device needed to be identified to operate a piece of equipment. Appliances with built in RFID readers, for instance, could capture the tag ID of a replaceable device such as a filter, as it was attached or mounted in the appliance, so that the consumable could be authenticated, and then could prompt operation of that device, or adjust its settings accordingly. Ultimately, says Lee, the small size tag with enable a new set of RFID solutions. “This gives our end customers more flexibility for innovation,” Lee says.

RFID Journal Awards Runners Up

Other products nominated for their innovation and potential value to the industry were CISC Semiconductor for its RAIN RFID Reader Checker that helps users ensure their readers are operating properly (see RFID Race-Timing Company Leverages Reader Checker). ControlTek’s InFlight RFID electronic article surveillance (EAS) overhead system comes built in time-of-flight technology to help retailers protect their merchandise by identifying and detecting the location and direction of tagged items that are leaving the store.

Tageos released a Max Sustainable RFID Inlay portfolio using biodegradable paper as a substrate and precision laser cutting technology. Brady’s FR22 RFID reader and edge IoT gateway is a modular RFID reading system with built in Bluetooth connectivity as well as integrated Wi-Fi with USB and I/O connectivity support and an HDMI port to connect a reader to a monitor or display. The FR22 enables applications that include Bluetooth sensor data processing and can serve as a stand-alone IoT edge gateway, all in a single device.

Identiv was nominated for its Capacitive Fill Level Sensing tag, an NFC label that can be attached to a liquid filled container and sense and then transit whether the container has fluid in it, for instance a cartridge or liquid filled medication vial.

ST Microelectronics was nominated for the ST25TN NFC tag with privacy features, for use in consumer engagement, product information, brand protection smart-city applications and access control (see News Roundup