Saturday 1 July 2017

Plastic 12-Bit RFID Tag and Read-Out System With Screen-Printed Antenna

Quad Industries, Agfa, Imec and TNO made an announcement recently that they established and verified a plastic 12-bit RFID tag and read-out systems with security that is screen printed. For the first time, the system combines a screen-printed antenna and a printed user interface that is based on touch, which allows the reader to operate on curved surfaces. The demonstrator has developed for applications pertaining to badge security, but also shows scope for many other applications as well such as smart packages, games that require interaction and wearables.

Compared to silicon (Si)-based identification devices, RFID tags that are made of plastic electronics have more advantages. They can be attached to curved packaging, effortlessly incorporated in everyday objects and its manufacturing is low-cost. The usual application consists of identification of items, smart food packaging, protecting the brand and badge security. A dedicated RFID reader is needed to scan the RFID tag which is usually in two centimetres of the tag. The antenna in the tag as well as the reader should both be flexible, utilising the advantages of plastic electronics to the fullest. Screen-printed antennas have been applied effectively on the top of an RFID tag but inflexible PCB-based antennas are generally used by the read-out systems. This is primarily because of the fact that the printed antenna has a poor resistance and Q-factor.

For the first time, industries like Imec, Quad Industries and Agfa have combined a screen-printed antenna in both of the items, the RFID tag as well as the read-out system. This allows the application of both these devices on a diverse range of surfaces. Quad Industries have screen-printed antennas using printing inks from Agfa.

This new technology has been demonstrated in an application pertaining to badge security. The access badge integrates the printed antenna, which is size of a credit-card, with a plastic 12-bit RFID chip, placed on plastic substrate that’s flexible. Imec’s metal-oxide thin-film transistor (TFT) technology has been used to manufacture the RFID tag. Large-area manufacturing processes are used by this technology that makes large-scale production at a low cost possible.

The read-out system includes uniquely printed functionality at diverse levels. To begin with, an RFID read-out antenna is made by screen-printing on a plastic film, making room for best possible integration on flat, curved or 3-D shaped reading surfaces. Also, a fully printed touch screen interface with numerical keypad has been placed between the cover lens and the display, which allows any user without a badge to enter the building by punching in a numerical code. Highly transparent screen-printed inks have been used to print these printed touch screen.

There are recently developed Ag inks which are nanoparticle based that makes lower resistances over conventional Ag-flake based inks achievable which in turn enables integrating new functionalities directly by screen printing. In addition to this, the antenna is printed at the same level as the printed touch screen which results in direct, more economical combination of the printed antenna and the customized touch screen in the device that’s the reader.

This technology allows for economical screen-printing manufacturing, is effortlessly customizable and eco-friendly and allows direct chip integration on many substrates which includes plastics, paper, etc. This technology also sees a promising use in smart packaging, smart PCB and smart gaming.

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