Chemical giant BASF and a small specialty chemicals company in Skokie, Ill., called Polyera Corp. have come up with a new type of semiconductor ink they plan to market under the name ActivInk. The ink is based on a new molecule that allows printed ink to carry a negative charge. Flexible circuits carrying a positive charge exist already, but by adding the negative charge you speed up the semiconductor and add reliability. The innovation could be used to make a soluble electronic ink, cheaper RFID tags and bendable displays.
The technology could drive wider adoption of RFID and real-time inventory management of everyday items. Such an effort would would benefit existing RFID players — and require incredible computing power to manage the vast amount of data created by ubiquitous RFID.
The exciting thing here is cost — the goal is to print these out like one prints a newspaper, making manufacturing cheap. If we can get the price of RFID tags below a cent or even below the 5 cents to 17 cents they can cost today, it would become more economical to use them to track smaller items. There are other applications, such as flexible displays, also being worked on by Polyera competitors, Plextronics, Plastic Logic and Polymer Vision.
With cheap RFID, real-time inventory management at the item level (rather than on pallets and boxes) becomes possible. An RFID and software system could let a retailer know when all size 6 shirts of a certain color are out of stock on shelves and call the warehouse or backroom to get more delivered quickly. Powering such a system in real time will require better computer systems and software, which means retailers will need hardware, as well as software, to track the vast amounts of data generated. RFID vendors such as IBM and Motorola, which sell RFID systems, would benefit, as would software companies such as SAP.
BASF and Polyera have been commercializing this technology since April 2007.