Smartrac Releases New Inlays, Including Retail’s Smallest

The company's new MiniWeb and DogBone inlays, made with NXP's UCODE 8 ICs, will bring improved performance, faster encoding and higher sensitivity than predecessor UHF inlays, for use in retail and industrial applications.
Published: September 17, 2018

Several companies are piloting sample versions of Smartrac Technology Group‘s new MiniWeb and DogBone inlays, which are expected to be made commercially available by the fourth quarter of this year. Both new inlays employ NXP Semiconductors‘ UCODE 8 IC and are aimed at making RFID technology use more feasible for small or challenging form-factor retail products, as well as more effective. The ICs offer a read range and sensitivity about 20 percent higher than those provided by previous inlays, the company reports.

Smartrac, a Netherlands-based RFID inlay manufacturer and IoT solutions provider, is among the world’s largest suppliers of RFID inlays and tags for brand experience, retail, logistics and other industrial applications. The two new inlays are intended to bring better RFID performance to the market’s more challenging applications.

Smartrac’s DogBone, Belt and MiniWeb

The MiniWeb, which measures 45 millimeters by 18 millimeters (1.8 inches by 0.7 inch), is the smallest UHF RFID inlay currently available for retail applications, according to the company. The latest DogBone, on the other hand, remains at the same size as previous DogBone inlays—97 millimeters by 27 millimeters (3.8 inches by 1.1 inch)—but with greater functionality. The new inlays will be priced similarly to their predecessor versions.

At the heart of both inlays is the UCODE 8 chip, which requires less power consumption (due to its increased sensitivity) and offers fast, automatic response to interrogations from UHF RFID readers in all global regions. The inlays provide a self-adjusting function to optimize sensitivity to a reader’s transmission, while providing the capacity to include a dedicated ID number for a company, using the label to provide brand authentication. Also leveraging the UCODE 8 IC, Smartrac’s Belt inlay was released in July 2018 (see Smartrac Unveils New Belt Inlays Based On NXP’s UCODE 8 Chips).

The new inlays operate with Smartrac’s Smart Cosmos Internet of Things (IoT) software platform, a cloud-based system to capture and manage data, such as a tag’s unique identifier (UID), batch number or yield specific to a production level. Solution providers can employ the Smart Cosmos software to build their own solutions using the cloud-based server and Smartrac inlays.

The MiniWeb was approved by the University of Auburn’s RFID Lab for ETSI retail performance. It is designed for small apparel and home goods products, ranging from underwear and socks to cosmetics, T-shirts and towels.

The MiniWeb comes in inlay, wet or paper tag versions, all with 128 bits of Electronic Product Code (EPC) memory. As such, it can be used as a hangtag or be affixed via adhesive. In either case, it can accommodate very small or thin form factors without a decrease in performance, says Matti Tavilampi, Smartrac’s global product management director for RFID sensors and products. The company accomplishes the MiniWeb’s small size with the reduced footprint of the UCODE 8 IC, as well as what Tavilampi describes as the firm’s “very detailed design work” in the inlay antennas.

Both the DogBone and the MiniWeb will be able to be encoded faster than most inlays currently on the market, Smartrac reports, while requiring less power to interrogate and with a greater accuracy in transmission. With the higher performance, Tavilampi says, companies can expect to achieve a longer read distance with either a handheld or fixed reader. Handhelds are still the common application for reading tags at retail locations, but as tags become more sensitive, he explains, fixed readers are being deployed in stores as well, to provide real-time zone-based read data, especially in the United States.

Matti Tavilampi

Several brands and retailers are currently testing the MiniWeb in sample versions. Tavilampi predicts the new inlay will enable the deployment of RFID in areas that have proved to be too challenging due to the size of products or the environment in which they are being read. For instance, he says, many small form-factor products are packed in large volumes, making the reading of tags that much more challenging. This includes tags on items such as jeans, cosmetics or belts.

The new DogBone inlay is being tested primarily in industrial use cases. Tavilampi cites sports timing, for instance—the inlay is already one of the most common products used in that industry, he says, for tracking the movements of athletes throughout races and across finish lines. DogBone tags can be applied behind the printed numbers on runners’ bibs, for example, and must be read as the runners pass through portals or over readers installed under mats.

In many cases, tens of thousands of the tags must be read as large numbers of participants crowd onto the race course or over the finish line. “The human body is very complex” for RFID transmissions, Tavilampi says, due to the large amount of fluids. The added sensitivity of the DogBone, he notes, is expected to make the use of RFID more effective.

Additionally, the new inlays are being tested for use on plastic reusable totes that may contain supplies for manufacturing processes, such as the assembly of new vehicles. This poses another challenging environment, Tavilampi says, since the totes could be filled with metal, rubber, plastic or glass materials. The new inlays, he predicts, “will accelerate RFID adoption in these industries,” because of their higher reliability, speed and data integrity, as well as the MiniWeb’s small size.

The Belt inlay, which also employs the UCODE 8 IC, is being used in both industrial and retail applications. According to Tavilampi, it is being utilized “especially with overhead readers,” and with a large volume of tags being interrogated.