RFID Remains a Strong Opportunity for PE

One of the key opportunities for printed electronics (PE) can be found in the field of RFID, or radio frequency identification. RFID is essentially a small chip and antenna system that provides information to a scanner. They can either have batteries, which allows it to store data, or simply use the scanner itself to supply the energy to activate the tag.

RFID is finding uses in numerous areas, particularly in inventory control, smart cards and packaging, luggage tags, livestock, passports and eIdentification documents and automated fare collection systems such as EZPass.

How large is the market for RFID? In 2009, industry consultants IDTechEx figured the market for RFID, including tags, software and hardware, exceeded $5.5 billion, with 2.35 billion tags acquired. By 2012, IDTechEx placed the value of the entire RFID market to be $7.46 billion, with 3.98 billion tags sold.

Among the industry leaders are SMARTRAC N.V., ASSA ABLOY, Alien Technology, Confidex, Impinj, Savi Technology, TAGSYS, Identive Group and Avery Dennison RFID, just to name a few, and most of these companies appear to be doing well.

Funding is still prevalent in the RFID field. Impinj, founded in May 2000, is privately held and has raised more than $110 million, including $21 million in financing in July 2012. Savi Technology, a logistics specialist, was acquired by LaSalle Capital Affiliates in September 2012 from Lockheed Martin. Alien Technology closed on an additional $15 million equity financing to expand company operations in November 2011. Many of these companies are privately financed.

There have been countless billions of these tags produced. For example, SMARTRAC N.V. just announced that it has produced and supplied more than one billion RFID inlays. SMARTRAC, which acquired UPM RFID from UPM in April 2012, is a leading supplier of RFID transponders. In September 2012, Confidex, a leading supplier of high-performing contactless ticketing and RFID tag solutions, announced it has exceeded the 300 million piece milestone in delivering limited use contactless tickets.

Toppan Printing Co., Ltd. announced in November 2012 that it has developed an RFID device that, despite having no battery, displays information in text and images on an integrated circuit (IC) chip. This system, which is expected to start shipping samples next spring, features a 2.7 inch dot-matrix electronic paper display.

For PE manufacturers, RFID offers potential; printing is already being utilized in production, and once complete systems, including batteries, can be printed, the cost of RFID will come down dramatically. Companies such as Kovio (which uses inkjet to print silicon transistors), PolyIC and others are doing pioneering work, while companies and universities alike are conducting research in this field.

Ultimately, the goal is to have these types of systems replace bar codes, which means that cost is critical. Printing is seen as the way to achieve this cost efficiency.