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Affordable silicon ink speeds up RFID tagging

Posted: 21 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RFID? silicon? ink? sensor?

Printing thin-film circuits on flexible substrates may be available in the market with the release of what is believed as silicon ink's first commercial integration.

Kovio Inc. launched its silicon ink printing scheme at the Electronic Product Code conference in Chicago. The initial application will be RFID tags, with future applications ranging from printable sensors to flexible displays.

The company said its process can lower the cost of RFID tags employing ink-jet printing by as much as $0.15 cents to between $0.05 cents and $0.10 cents each. High-volume roll-to-roll printing can further minimize the price to less than a penny.

"Kovio's printed ICs will raise the value proposition and potentially hasten adoption of tagging all objects, from retail products to transit passes to documents and other assets," said Leslie Hand, research director, Global Retail Insights.

Kovio noted that the rival organic printing technologies have 100 times less electron mobility. It stressed that the technology has 100cm2/Vs electron mobility, about the same as a polysilicon for its thin-film CMOS circuits, operating at speeds as high as 1GHz. The company said for the first-time, ROM can be printed with an RFID tag, permitting the inclusion of item-specific information like serial numbers.

"The silicon platform basically focuses on item-level intelligence by adding intelligence to all kind of things that need identification," said Vik Pavate, VP, Kovio. "In the future, the company will have sensors and displays all integrated into a device," he added.

Existing scenario
Present RFID tags need an additional chip to store item-specific information, usually in memories that must be programmed by OEMs. Kovio uses read-only memories that could help lower manufacturing costs. "Because we use printed [read-only] memory, the cost of programming basically disappears," said Pavate.

"We can print all the blocks that are necessary to create an RFID product, which includes the logic, memory, rectifiers and dividers, because the incoming RF signal has to be divided down to the clock of the chip," he added. "You need to print the integrated capacitor and most importantly you have to print memory," he noted.

Analysts said Kovio's silicon ink circuits may have a significant role over other printable circuit technologies such as those using organic transistors. But they added that Kovio's strategy has limitations.

"Kovio offers a helpful option to silicon chip RFIDs using a printed solution. It cannot do everything that a high-end silicon chip can do, but can be much cheaper since it does not use silicon chip, which is the most expensive part of an RFID tag today," said Raghu Das, CEO, IDTechEx.

Kovio said at present there are no customers for its silicon ink RFID tags, but it is expecting to tap markets such as pharmaceuticals, electronic tickets, package delivery tracking, logistics and asset management.

The company's circuitry is printed on 100? thick foils, and has up to 128bits of ROM. It employs synchronous tags-talk-first protocols, 106Kbit/s data rates and uses large bonding pads for connecting cheap antennas. The printing process does not have hazardous liquids or gases.

Among Kovio's investors are Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Bessemer Venture Partners, Jerusalem Venture Partners, Panasonic Venture Group, Mitsui Ventures, Yasuda Enterprise Development and Toppan Forms.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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