I know RFID is not a glamorous item, (except that the results can be) but more importantly RFID is of overriding importance to the future developments in packaging and not only to the technology of it, but without doubt also to the future possibilities of design and waste management. So continue reading.
In the meantime we have reached the year 2009, in which RFID gets its extra dimension. Were the first pilot-projects of Wal-Mart and Metro, as described in part 01, concentrated around pallets and shipping cases, and later selectively implemented, due to the high prices of the tags, around up-scale consumer products, in 2009 RFID entered into mass production.
In the beginning companies had the choice between two modes of identification and information storage on the boxes in which their products were packaged: the manual application of RFID labels or the inline printing and application of the labels. The first procedure, known in the industry as the ‘Slap & Ship’ method, is labour intensive and can only handle relatively small volumes. The second approach, ‘Print & Apply’, involves the implementation of an infrastructure and requires major capital investments.
The first ‘mass-introduction’ came from Krupack with the Hide-Pack, consisting of a RFID-inlay embedded within the structure of a corrugated case, or folding carton during box manufacturing. Sandwiched within the manufacturer’s glue joint and encapsulated in a dab of adhesive, the inlay becomes an integral part of the packaging. It’s also protected from moisture and cold storage, as well as from bumps along the supply chain.
The inlayed chip is not visible either inside or outside the box. For protection purposes, the tag is embedded in the manufacturing joint, as the joint offers the highest level of protection for the inlay, given it is the only area on the box’s circumference which has 2 layers of board over one another – and for RFID readability purposes – the corner of a box is typically a very desirable tag placement to ensure optimal read rates of the inlay once the box has been filled with product.
Another advantage of Krupack’s Hide-Pack is the ecological aspect. Numerous industry studies show that polymer laminated solid-metal antenna inlays – by far the most common type of inlay on the market – are completely removed by the recycling process from the old corrugated containerboard before the re-pulped material makes its way to the paper machine.
The Plastic Bottle Cap and the Beer Can
Also in 2009 two Japanese companies revealed the development of a plastic bottle cap embedded with a RFID-tag. According to reports, the development would allow cosmetic and beverage manufacturers to continue to use their existing manufacturing equipment even if they shift to the new cap.
NEC Electronics and container company Toyo Seikan Kaisha, Ltd. said they have managed to fit a built in chip and a micro antenna inside the plastic cap, according to various Japanese media reports. The cap is embedded with a passive 2.45 GHz RFID-tag while the communication range extends to 10 cm.
The companies claimed that the design of the 24-mm diameter, butterfly-shaped tag, prevents interference with the RFID signal from any moisture released by the drink.
At that time Tokyo Seikan and NEC announced that they are jointly exploring the possible RFID-tag embedding with metal cans, plastic containers, glass bottles and paper packages and indeed some time later Toyo Seikan Kaisha, LTD. introduced the world’s first metal beverage can equipped with a RFID-tag.
This is quite a break-through as conventional RFID-tags cannot communicate on metal surfaces. Tokyo Seikan solved that problem by designing the tab ring (with a little space between the lid and the tab) as an antenna and connecting it to an IC chip. This makes it possible to manufacture the RFID cans with the conventional IC chips.
As the IC chip is set on the tab ring, the design of can body and lid will not be changed. Also beverage manufacturers can still use conventional filling and closing equipment without any modification. The RFID tags located on the cans are able to communicate easily, because the direction of them will be arranged.
CypoPrint’s Non-Conductive Inks
Finally we arrive where we started, the CypoPrint inks of BASF. The non-conductive CypoPrint inks offer a cost-efficient and more eco-friendly alternative to the current etching technique and represent the first solution for the additive manufacturing of RFID antennas.
The benefits of additive manufacturing compared with aluminium etching are the efficient use of raw materials and the lower environmental impact. The new CypoPrint inks replace the expensive, conductive printing pastes previously used in the additive process and substantially reduce the manufacturing costs of RFID antennas.
The non-conductive CypoPrint inks are applied to polyester films using a standard printing process and then given a conductive metallic coating in an electroplating system for flexible electronics. Because the CypoPrint inks are converted and made conductive in the electroplating stage, BASF refers to them as ‘seeder’ inks. A customer benefit is the variable layer thickness and conductivity of the antennas, which can be easily adapted to the various memory chips during electroplating.
All these developments are maturing the ‘smart packaging’ concept. A concept, which provides not only the necessary supply chain data, but creates possibilities for additional information to consumers in different languages, among others product information and recipes, can read out instruction leaflets to visually-handicapped people, or play an advertising spot on printed foil monitors.
The key is intelligent ink. The strip conductors and components are made of organic polymers which are dissolved in a liquid phase, allowing them to be processed on a kind of inkjet printer.
The declared aim of the developers here is to be able to offer such a chip for use in the mass segments of the consumer products industry, at a price of under one cent.
These printed RFID-tags will then be able to monitor temperature accurately all the time and store and transfer data. And it’s not only this kind of passive data storage that is at the threshold of large-scale industrial manufacture, so, too, are active electronic circuits made up of transistors, resistors, LEDs and capacitors also manufactured with inkjet printers. And even to supply energy from printed batteries or solar cells. That is the key to animated images or advertising jingles.
The future is close at hand. According to a report by market researchers NanoMarket, the market volume in electronic inks and substrates used in the manufacture of printed electronics, will rise from 1.1 billion dollars in 2008 to over 11.5 billion by 2015.
The future packaging will be fun.
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