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Skinny RFID tags could soon show up embedded in paper

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Two new developments in RFID research could pave the way for tags that are thinner, cheaper, and more versatile. Using new materials and cutting-edge laser fabrication, engineers at North Dakota State University have made RFID tags compatible with paper or metal, with applications ranging from banknotes to cargo containers.

The key to embedding ultra-thin RFID tags into paper is what’s called Laser Enabled Advanced Packaging. Instead of using the pick-and-place robotic methods generally employed with today’s larger tags, a laser pulse is used to insert the RFID circuitry into a substrate: in this case, paper. The force generated by this laser pulse is essential when dealing with chips that are so thin — 20 microns, less than most commercial RFID chips — in order to overcome the attractive forces that could hinder the pickup and placement with conventional methods. Static electricity, for example, can make the super-skinny chips stick to the robot, which impacts assembly speed and precision.

The speed and precision of this contactless method beats current manufacturing techniques, according to the researchers, and it also doesn’t result in bumps in the paper. An added benefit is that the chip’s silicon becomes flexible at such tiny scales, so it can bend if needed. The paper-embedded RFID tag still has a tiny antenna, which is first printed onto the paper before the laser etching. Another NDSU discovery has done away with the antenna altogether, overcoming the interference problems associated with tagging metals or containers filled with liquid.


The passive ultra-high frequency tags use the metal objects to which they are attached as antennas. This means that they can be thinner, because no spacer is required to isolate the tag from the metal surface to make it readable. In addition, the tag’s highly permeable material lets current flow into the integrated circuit. “RFID on metal” could be used to track assets from laptops to medical devices and oil barrels, and because they can be embedded in the metal itself, they can stay with an object from origin to end. While the creation of antenna-less RFID tags isn’t entirely new, the development marks another step towards realizing the internet of things.

Image via North Dakota State University Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering

4 Responses to “Skinny RFID tags could soon show up embedded in paper”

  1. David Henderson

    The criminals are going to love having RFID tags in money. All they have to do is get a reader and walk around to see who is worth robbing. No more robbing someone only to find out they just had $5 on them. Now they can pick and chose the people who are loaded. Some one will even come up with a smart-phone scanner app for this or build a scanner that looks like a phone so no one will pay them any attention.
    I see a new market. RFID wallets will be joined by RFID shielded lady’s hand bags and I even see a RFID shielded clothing line. RFID shielded pants and maybe even RFID shielded bras.

    • Gregory Pierce

      If they are that close to someone where they can use a reader to discern how much is in their pocket, they might as well go ahead and just rob them since they will be mere inches away from the money anyways.

  2. Wolfgang

    I was lured by JEDEC’s newsletter to this article.
    The Jedec headline was :How RFID tags could be embedded in paper, metal”
    Now embedding RFID tags into metal would have been a thing :-))