By Claire Swedberg
Mar. 2, 2012—RFID tag
has developed a family of thin ultrahigh-frequency
) Gen 2
passive tags that can be mounted on metal. The new tags are being used or tested by approximately 20 companies, in order to manage assets that were impractical to track by means of larger metal-mount tags. Omni-ID's UltraThin tag, which measures about 0.05 inch in thickness, can be likened to the size of a stick of chewing gum, and is thin enough that it will not interfere with the handling of small electronics (such as laptop computers), the stacking of tagged metal equipment (such as shopping carts) or the movement of pipes for the oil and gas industry.
The new UltraThin tag
is available in two models: the Flex LP, manufactured using Alien Technology
's Higgs 3 chip
, and the Flex AI, made with NXP Semiconductors
' G2iL chip. Both models comply with the EPC
Gen 2 standard for passive UHF RFID
tags. The initial customer for the Flex AI is a Fortune 100 firm that needed to track thousands of laptops located on its premises. That company, which has asked to remain unnamed, had been working with NXP in its quest for a UHF tag that could be read
effectively when attached to such metallic items as laptops and other mobile electronics, but that was thin enough that it would not interfere with the carrying or use of the items.
The Flex LP tag, shown here attached to a metal motor housing.
"NXP knew we were working on something like this [a very thin metal-mount tag]," says George Reynolds, Omni-ID's VP of global sales and marketing. In fact, he says, Omni-ID had already developed a prototype, so it provided the resulting Flex Al tag to its customer in October 2011, for initial testing. In November, Omni-ID filled an order for 20,000 tags, which the customer then attached to the laptops and other mobile electronic devices. (Reynolds says he is not at liberty to describe at what points the tags are being read, or by which types of RFID interrogators.) Since then, Omni-ID has provided the tags to other companies for testing purposes in tracking laptops, as well as to returnable transport item (RTI) businesses and to the oil and gas industry, for tracking metal pipes.
For IT asset-tracking solutions using the Flex LP and Flex AI tags, Reynolds says, customers typically issue UHF EPC Gen 2 passive RFID badges to their employees, and apply the UltraThin RFID tags to computers. They can then utilize fixed RFID reader portals to interrogate both the badge and laptop tags as individuals pass through the portals, link the unique ID numbers of each, and thereby determine when someone is removing or returning a laptop, as well as that person's identity.
The Flex LP tag
is designed to operate within the UHF RFID frequency
ranges for both Europe (866 to 868 MHz) and the United States (902 to 928 MHz), while the Flex AI model's operating range is 902 to 928 MHz. The LP version also comes with 512 bits of user memory
; the Flex AI does not include user memory. The Flex LP measures 2.95 inches by 0.98 inch by 0.047 inch, while the Flex AI measures 2.76 inches by 0.75 inch by 0.057 inch. The read
ranges are similar in both; the Flex LP tag can be read at a range up to 4 meters (13 feet) using a fixed reader
, while the Flex AI version can be read from up to 5 meters (16.4 feet) away. Both models can be attached via adhesive. The predecessor of the LP and AI tags was Omni-ID's Flex tag, a metal-mounting tag measuring 0.11 inch in thickness, 0.6 inch in width and 3 inches in length.
George Reynolds, Omni-ID's VP of global sales and marketing
The smaller form factor
, Reynolds notes, was possible thanks to changes in the materials used, as well as reengineering. Omni-ID's metal-mount tags, he says, are based on a resonant "plasmonic" structure surrounded by a layer of foil, to absorb and then reflect back RF energy in a focused way that is just as effective in the presence of metal (which can interfere with traditional RFID tag
antennas) as in a metal-free environment.
According to Reynolds, the next phase will be to create a printable label version of the Flex AI and Flex LP tags that customers can receive on a roll and then print themselves. He predicts that the printable labels will become available during the second quarter of this year.
The price of the UltraThin tags will be competitive with that of other tags that can be read on metal, Reynolds reports, such as those with extra encapsulates for durability. Although he is unable to quote an exact price per tag, he says it will be "well under a dollar." What's more, he adds, the tags can also be used on tools, manufacturing equipment and construction helmets.