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Rafsec Is Tuned for Success

The Finnish smart-label company is producing innovative antennas that will be part of the world's first ten-cent RFID tag.
Tags: Standards
May 13, 2002—May 13, 2002 - Alien Technology has been getting a lot of attention for its innovative "nanoblocks" – tiny microchips the width of three human hairs. But these tiny chips aren't much use without a low-cost antenna. And that's where a small, unheralded Finnish comes in. Rafsec is pioneering the development and production of new antenna technology that could usher in a new era of computing based on radio frequency identification.

Rafsec's Lindström
Rafsec is a subsidiary of Finland's UPM-Kymmene Corp., (NYSE: UPM) one of the world's largest manufacturers of newsprint and magazine paper in the world (The company's turnover in 2001 was EUR 9.9 billion and it has 36,000 employees and manufacturing facilities in 17 countries.) UPM also has a division called Raflatac, which is a major producer of self-adhesive label stock. The Finnish paper giant became interested in RFID technology as a way of driving its label business.

Rafsec was set up by UPM in 1997 in Tampere, Finland, where it does most of its R&D. In 1999, Rafsec opened a production facility in Jyväskylä, Finland, to manufacture RFID transponders. The company's focus was on innovation, and it was keen to work with academia to improve its RFID technology. That led it to the Auto-ID Center, which was opened at MIT in 1999. Rafsec joined in January 2001.

Rafsec understood that if the Auto-ID Center was successful in creating a system for tracking items worldwide using low-cost RFID tags, it would open a massive new market for Rafsec's technology. Last year, Rafsec signed a partnership deal with Alien, under which Alien would produce it's nanoblocks, flow them into a "strap" – a band that makes it easier to connect the antenna to the chip – and ship them to Rafsec in Finland. Rafsec would attach the antenna and package the completed tag into a self-adhesive label that could be slapped on products or cases.

The only question: How do you create a low-cost antenna for a tag that is supposed to sell for 5 cents?
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