The UK is bidding to take a lead in smart packaging through the three-year Scope project instigated by the Centre for Process Innovation in Sedgefield.
The aim is to combine the skills and experience of 14 partners to design and produce NFC tags costing below the 1¢ each barrier. To achieve the volumes needed the tags would need to be printed with conductive inks and then reader by a scanner or smartphone.
The projects aims to develop new processes, modifying equipment and to create the applications that enable the production of billions of electronic components that make up the chips. Mercian Labels and security print company Andrews & Wykeham are members of the consortium.
They are joined by flexible electronics designer Pragmatic, materials experience from the University of Kent, polymer substrates from Innovia, specialist inks knowledge from nvotec and Pragmatic, NFC know-how from NFS, process automation from Optrek and electronics design from Silvaco.
In addition major manufacturers including Unilever, Hasbro and Crown Packaging are involved along with the BPIF. It will act as an information provider and gatherer to collect end user feedback on the viability of technologies developed.
Mike Clausen is programme manager at the CIP. He says: “The project brings together the whole innovation value chain, providing the platform for end-users to develop their next generation packaging concepts and to prove these in terms of market viability and appeal. So far, the consortium has made excellent progress and has worked closely to produce a range of NFC product concepts that integrate logic circuits produced on flexible substrates.”
The next step is to ramp up production to check that the new NFC chops and ways of producing them without incurring any kind of failure rate. “To do this, we are currently developing the capability to scale up these production processes to produce market trial samples of up to 50,000-100,000 tags,” he says.
The first applications will be tags for integration into smart packaging and product branding on FMCG products. Tracking the movement of goods is another immediate application. Walmart has already attempted to imposed RFID chips on suppliers for its shops, but pulled back. Now the giant US retailer wants to move away from inkjet printed codes saying these cannot always be read. NFC tags could provide a viable alternative.
The potential for the next generation of applications is equally huge. The CPI names FMCG, beverage, games and toys and security with applications spilling into healthcare, food, energy, built environment, defence and transport.
For Scott White, CEO of Pragmatic, says that his company is in an ideal position: “The NFC-based applications targeted by the project are an ideal use case for the form factor and cost advantages of Pragmatic's flexible integrated circuits, and we are excited to be working with leading players across the entire supply chain to deliver commercial product solutions in mass market volume.”
The company has published details of a concept for modular production of flexible printed circuits capable of producing billions of ultra thin computer chips at a fraction of the cost of silicon based alternatives.
The Centre for Process Innovation has put together Scope, a three year project to study the feasibility of printing high volumes of low cost tags that can help improve supply chains, deliver new levels of consumer interactivity and introduce brands and retailers to really smart packaging.