Smart Labels USA 2005, 27-30 June, Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel ...
Smart Labels USA 2005, 27-30 June, Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel, Baltimore, USA
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
By: Dr Peter Harrop, IDTechEx
Screen printing is one of the oldest printing technologies known to man. It is certainly a long
time since it was the preferred way of printing labels yet here it is - back again as the preferred
method of printing the silver ink used for Radio Frequency Identification RFID antennas on the
smart labels that are now the most common form of RFID. These antenna patterns are
connected to a silicon chip, or, more rarely, a Surface Acoustic Wave SAW chip, in the label.
Back to the future
RFID and SAW chips are made using photolithography but gradually all this will be replaced
with printed transistor circuits. These are being made experimentally and some are now in pilot
production, at companies such as Plastic Logic in the UK, with ink jet and spin coating
techniques sometimes with some photolithography. However, new finer, more conductive inks
are becoming available from X-INK of Canada and others and they permit flexographic, offset
and other high speed printing technologies to be used for RFID antennas. Other inks that are
insulating, semiconducting and so on from Dow of the US and others are about to replace the
silicon chip itself with printed transistor circuits, initially ink jet printed but later using flexo,
gravure and so on.. If that happens we shall have come full circle and the new way of
identifying things automatically – RFID – will have gone back to the origins of printing then
progressed to modern high speed printing technology.
Why a boom in RFID labels?
RFID is the use of radio frequencies or thereabouts to read data on small devices –
increasingly labels – on just about anything, with few problems of obscuration, orientation or
electronically reading many at a time. You can hide them in a label and still read it
electronically and you can throw 1000 of them past an electronic reader and they will all be
read in a blink of an eye. Increasingly, that means they can replace barcodes, antitheft tags,
anticounterfeiting features and much more besides, all with one label, and the potential is
Need a new label – don’t need a label
History is repeating itself in terms of when you need such a label and when you do not. Many
early barcodes were applied in the form of labels but nowadays almost all of them are printed
“free” as part of the graphics on a package or a product. RFID will repeat that sequence.
Today it is a market for RFID labels and paper tickets – though the largest orders have been
landed by Texas Instruments, Alien Technology and Matrics, all of the US and Hitachi of
Japan not traditional label companies. Symbol Technologies has now bought Matrics. Symbol
has most of its business in barcode systems and is playing catchup. So are leading
labelmakers Avery Dennison, Rafsec, Dai Nippon Printing and Toppan Printing. Expect them
to announce their first really large orders for RFID labels in the coming year, matching or
exceeding those for tens and hundreds of millions landed by the electronics companies above.
They will not simply be converting an existing naked RFID tag (“inlet”) bought from someone
else into a label. That adds little value. They will be doing almost everything themselves.
A ten-year boom in RFID labels
The labelling industry will have about ten years of booming new label markets in RFID but
then, yes, things will start to go full circle. As with barcodes in their maturity, the RFID circuits
will be mainly printed directly onto products and packaging. That label market will also start to
Need another label! Self-adjusting use by dates
Fortunately, many other totally new markets for labels will be emerging in the next ten years.
Take the self-adjusting use by and sell by date or other indication of expiry. Today these are
tiny non-electronic labels that rely on chemicals changing colour to show expiry – they do not
show a date at all. These Time Temperature Indicators TTIs can be inaccurate and subject to
batch to batch variation and stray parameters such as light and humidity, though they are low
cost at a few cents each and one billion a year will be sold soon.. They do not show a large
unambiguous warning – usually just a colour change in a small dot.
Electronic self-adjusting use by dates
Now consider the electronic successor that is not yet available. In its initial form it will be a
label that will sense the temperature-time profile of the product and reveal a large word
“EXPIRED” when appropriate. Later versions will give a date that scrolls down if you leave the
milk, say, in the sun. It may incorporate RFID but it does not have to. The printed display may
be used for other purposes such as giving clear instructions in large, even glowing, fonts.
However, although companies such as KSW Microtec and Infratab are going up market with
such labels by giving them large displays, RFID and more polling points when data are
recorded, the massive opportunity is for self adjusting use by dates that cost only tens of cents
in billions and a few cents at larger volumes. Someone will crack this and create a massive
new label market. On sensitive products, such as drugs, self adjusting use by dates may even
become a legal requirement.
But not for ever
However, later, the self adjusting use by date will be printed directly on the product or package
and a label will not be needed – this takes us full circle as with barcodes and later RFID labels.
The good news, though, is that there is always another label market coming along. For
example, Arla Foods, Europe’s leading dairy company, has a milk carton in its laboratory that
speaks the words “Put me back in the fridge” if you leave it out in the sun. There is little
prospect of printing loudspeakers directly onto things. The most elegant way of doing that will
be the transparent laminates of NXT Sound in the UK that are already giving high quality
sound in this year’s NEC cellphones in Japan. The cellphone display has the transparent
sound laminate over it. Such laminates will be in the form of labels stuck over printed
electronics wherever it appears. Another label market will be born.
Smart skin patches
Another interesting aspect of the smart label revolution is smart skin patches. These are labels
put on animals and humans: indeed they are made by labelmakers such as Avery Dennison. A
smart skin patch uses “iontophoresis” by which a small voltage across the skin makes it more
porous to chemicals. Though non-electrical patches are quite popular for anti smoking,
Parkinson’s disease and other treatments, the “passive” application of ointments depends on
temperature and is essentially uncontrolled and slow. With the electrical assistance of a small,
often a printed, battery, the application can be accelerated and even controlled in time and
The current version from Alza, a Johnson & Johnson company, is like a small calculator
applied to the skin and it would not be made by labelmaking equipment. It is large because it
holds more of the drug and it has extra features such as an “on demand” button. By contrast,
the smart patchesfrom Power Paper in Israel and licensed to seven companies in the last year
and those from Birch Point in the US are like Band Aids.
Another label market
Thanks to these companies and others a large market for smart skin patches is opening up
where they replace needle injections and many other, less pleasant, less safe and less
accurate forms of drug delivery – they will not simply replace existing passive patches.
Imaginative companies such as Power Paper even have totally new uses for these patches
such as the application of dye to give tattoos that last a few months – time to change your
mind! So how are they all made? Well, currently it is a matter of screen-printing most of the
batteries and the conductor and resistor patterns. Back to the future……
ends – approx 1450 words
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DON’T FORGET TO APPLY FOR YOUR FREE PRESS PASS TO SMART LABELS USA,
27-30 JUNE, WYNDHAM INNER HARBOR HOTEL, BALTIMORE, USA
For further information, or to pre-register, please do not hesitate to contact:
Cordelia Hime, Labelexpo PR Manager, +44 (0) 20 8846 2700, email@example.com
Notes to Editors
1. Further information regarding Smart Labels USA 2005 can be found at
2. Smart Labels USA 2004 was attended by over 400 delegates from 24 countries.
3. Interviews with Roger Pellow, Labelexpo Managing Director, are available on request.
4. For further information about IDTechEx please see www.idtechex.com
5. For further information on Tarsus please see www.tarsus-group.com
6. For further information on Labelexpo please see www.labelexpo.com
LABELEXPO GLOBAL SERIES 2005 DATES:
PISEC 05, April Vienna, Austria, www.pisec-world.com
Packaging Services 2005, May, Chicago, USA,www.packservicesexpo.com
Label Summit Latin America 2005, May, Sao Paulo, Brazil, www.labelsummit.com
Smart Labels USA 2005, June, Baltimore, USA, www.smartlabelsusa.com
Labelexpo Europe 2005, September, Brussels, Belgium, www.labelexpo-europe.com
Labelexpo China 2005, December, Shanghai, China, www.labelexpo-china.com
IDTECHEX 2005 DATES:
Printed Electronics Europe 2005, Cambridge, UK, www.printelec.com
Smart Labels USA 2005, June, Baltimore, USA, www.smartlabelsusa.com
Smart Labels Europe 2005, September, UK, www.smartlabelseurope.com
Smart Labels Asia 2005, November, Seoul, Korea, www.smartlabelsasia.com
Printed Electronics USA 2005, December, USA, www.idtechex.com