Sep 3, 2015

How can RFID tags cost 1 cent?

How can an RFID tag cost 1 cent?

An example of a generic RFID chip

As far back as 2001, we have been watching the RFID industry very keenly and asking ourselves “When will a RFID tag ever cost 5 cents?Imagination turned to reality in 2012 and since then, major stores such as Marks & Spencer have been jumping on board the RFID ship. Near-instant inventory tracking became a reality and out-of-stock situations suddenly became a rare occurrence. Unquestionably, the ROI has been higher than expected and executives on all levels have given themselves a pat on their back for a risk well taken.

The story of RFID development is just beginning with the magical 5 cents tag, yet a new chapter is pending with a somewhat different question – “When will a RFID tag ever cost 1 cent?”

Here’s our answer: It will cost 1 cent when RFID antenna manufacturers replace their copper etching processes with inkjet printing solutions.

Copper Etching

Copper Etching is by far the most widespread, available and commercialised manufacturing technology to produce RFID tag antennas, adapted from the production of Printed Circuits Boards (PCB) back when they were forming the core of electronics revolution and for good reason: It is easy to achieve a fine pitch with high conductivity levels that allow for the miniaturisation of UHF tags while retaining excellent antenna performance. 

Did we mention that as much as 70% of copper used is wasted? 

Enter Inkjet Printing. It lives by the principle: “None shall go to Waste”

Inkjet Printing

There are tomes of academic studies on the viability of inkjet printing as a form of Printed Electronics (PE) pertaining to RFID antenna manufacture. They are unique in their own ways, but essentially aim to evaluate an inkjet-printed RFID antenna’s performance while varying conditions such as antenna design and antenna operating frequency. And all of them point to two conclusions:

  1. Inkjet printing is a promising RFID antenna manufacturing process that produces RFID antennas with equal or better performance as those by Copper etching
  2. Nano particle Silver Inks are the most frequently used material in Inkjet printing

So what do these conclusions mean? In short, they mean that: Inkjet printing using Nano particle Silver Inks are Trial-Ready

Of course, academic studies only evaluate ANTENNA PERFORMANCE. They speak little of initial investment costs, logistical costs, recurring costs, economics-of-scale in R2R high volume setups, and the all-powerful, overarching consideration: ROI.

These costs are unique to each RFID manufacturer and reasonable estimations of such costs can only be known AFTER trials.

Silver is Really Expensive – Not so True for Nano particle Silver

It is a well-known fact that silver spot price is extremely volatile, having undergone huge spikes in value. The most recent one in 2011 saw it hit a record high USD47.38/oz before facing a slow overall decline until USD14.87/oz. Coupled with other market forces, the Photovoltaic (PV) industry went through a major reshuffling as the price of conventional silver inks/pastes increased the costs of each PV module. 

Conventional silver inks/pastes are mature technologies with slim profit margins and no room for innovation to increase conductivity without increasing cost. Their conductivity relies heavily on silver content of the ink. 

Therefore, conventional silver inks/pastes prices closely follow the changes in the price of raw silver.  

In comparison, conductivity of Nano particle silver inks is dependent on the particle size, shape and distribution together with the formulation and sintering process to achieve its final conductivity. 

Hence, conductivity can be improved without increasing the silver content in the ink, dampening the effect of silver price volatility in the market.

Furthermore, as Nano particle silver ink is an innovative product that has only recently emerged as a viable option for industrial use, production processes can be made cheaper and more effective with time as more research is conducted ink costs possibly reduced.

As both experts in the field of PE (Winner at IDTechX 3D Printing Europe Awards) and Nano particle silver ink manufacture, we are proud to announce that AgCiteTM is ready for trials by RFID manufacturers to evaluate the effectiveness of inkjet printing using Nano particle silver inks in RFID antenna manufacturing. We are fully committed to ensuring that RFID manufacturers gain a strategic advantage over their competitors using inkjet printing and AgCiteTM

Learn more about how 3D Printed Electronics can help you gain strategic advantage over your competitors with our white paper: 

Visit Our Whitepapers Page For More Detail

Do you have any questions for us or want to share your knowledge? Leave us a comment on our Contact Us page and we can have an insightful discussion!

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