Passion for Packaging Innovation

Nano materials; RFID finally may be arriving

Wired magazine is reporting that scientists from Sunchon National University and Rice University have developed a printable RFID tag.

The cost of the RFID tags were over $1/unit a decade ago. Back then, it was largely anticipated that in order for RFID to be fully deployed, the per unit cost needed to be at better than 5¢/unit. Despite its advantages, RFID competes against bar codes, which are printed on the package, as part of the graphic design, at almost no additional cost. The ultimate target was 1¢/unit.

Texas Instruments and other players in the field have brought down the costs over the years, but we are still far from the 1¢/package goal. Consequently, a decade after these predictions, RFID still remains limited to reusable items such as highway toll systems, credit payment systems, passports and other government IDs.

Cost Breakthrough

The printable tag brings the cost per tag to 3¢/unit. This is a significant improvement over the cost of its current variety, which is ~50¢ these days. A decade of cost improvement reduced costs only 50%, and at this pace, we may never see RFID widely deployed, given that bar codes themselves have improved significantly in terms of data amounts that are stored in printed form. However, there is one thing bar codes can not deliver, and that is remote pinging/reading which remains strictly an RFID territory.

A step change is needed, and these printed RFID tags may be able to deliver that. Three cents is real close to the one cent goal of a decade ago, and perhaps we have reached the inflection point for this technology to finally take off.

The Technology

The breakthrough that makes this possible is the semi-conducting ink itself, which when printed in three layers (passes) will form the necessary circuit with transistors. It is important to note that this technology can be used for freshness indicators on packages as well.

Other Benefits of RFID

In addition to its distribution channel benefits, RFID will make checking out in the grocery store a breeze. It will also most certainly help in home automation. For example, it can inventory your fridge’s contents with future refrigerators, automatically generate your shopping list, and in the grocery store, automatically manage your shopping list. It also can detect what is thrown away, and it can help deduce whether you need to replenish the thrown away item. Finally, for items with expiration dates, home automation software can warn you against expired food.

All of this has been waiting for the RFID tag costs to come down. May be we are finally there, thanks to nano technology.

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