- January 15, 2004, Nsenga Byrd Thompson, Associate Editor
In the past couple of years, interest in RFID technology has grown within the converting industry, but with cost and standardization issues still looming, many within the industry are still contemplating if the emerging technology is right for their operation.
Now, with the availability of conductive inks and coatings, converters that once believed RFID applications were an unattainable goal have reason to take notice.
In a recent conversation with PFFC, Jim Rohrkemper, president of Flint Ink’s newly formed company Precisia LLC, discussed the basics of conductive ink technology and explained how it just may be the key to unlock the RFID market.
PFFC: What are conductive inks?
Rohrkemper: They are materials that basically contain silver and carbon. The trick is to blend the carbon and silver in the right proportions and then use the right resins and other systems that make up normal inks so they can run through a printing press. Conductive inks basically allow you to move electronics and to have conductivity and resistivity.
PFFC: Why are conductive inks such an important piece to RFID technology?
Rohrkemper: It has to do with the antenna and the fact that RFID devices need an antenna in order to receive power and transmit information. The technology used today to manufacture those antennas is a stamping process that uses either foil or copper. With a conductive ink—again a blend of carbon and silver—we can use printing presses and standard printing processes to produce [the antennas] at a much faster speed and at a significantly lower cost.
PFFC: Can you explain further how conductive inks contribute to lowering the cost of RFID?
Rohrkemper: The printing process already is very well understood and there already is a lot of print capacity out there in the world. By acquiring conductive inks, a typical printer with a standard printing press would have the potential to participate in the emerging RFID market because they would be able to print RFID antennas and then evolve into some active packaging applications as well. And since these are the people that currently have to print or convert the packaging anyway, it seems like a natural entry for them to add value to their customers and to also provide some or all of the RFID technology or package as well.
Instead of having to spend a lot of additional money on the equipment to produce copper or aluminum antennas, there’s probably already plenty of printing press capacity out in the marketplace. It’s not just the cost of the ink, but we also think the cost of the capital outlay to get into this market, for the printer, the majority is already bought and paid for.
PFFC: What should a converter consider before deciding to use conductive inks?
Rohrkemper: Converters must consider the support that they can receive because while they understand printing processes and packaging engineering and integration very well, this is not a normal ink. It’s not graphics arts ink. So to understand what’s different about it, and to be able to go to a company that can provide the education and the training as well as the technical support, I think is going to be important. I don’t think you’re just going to be able to order conductive inks off the Internet, have them shipped, put them on your press and have them run through right the first time…It’s just not going to happen! You’re going to need somebody who can help you understand how you change the press setting, how you store and handle the ink, and then how to modify the ink in order to get the type of printability, runnability, conductivity, and resistivity you’ll need.
PFFC: Is there a specific type of operation that this technology isn’t right for?
Rohrkemper: We’re not seeing any major barrier to entry or huge capital investments like a clean room or anything like the electronics industry has to deal with. A typical printing environment, with the right amount of commitment…its probably the least risk. We think its dead on into how they can enter this whole RFID race without spending a lot of time, money, and risk.
PFFC: What are some major trends in conductive inks?
Rohrkemper: The trend is to try to find technologies within the conductive inks to bring curing time or drying time down and lowest possible temperature. Another trend is to look at other materials within the ink that could be lower cost alternatives to silver flake. Silver is a precious metal and if there would be a way to bring the percentage down of the amount of silver that’s in the ink you would be able to sell it at a lower price, which would bring the total cost of the RFID device down.
PFFC: What’s in the future for conductive inks?
Rohrkemper: We see a future for printed electronics where a significant amount of electronic circuitry and components will be printed using high-speed printing processes rather than the subtractive method that they’re manufacturing today. And that will bring about new devices we haven’t even dreamed up yet. There will be a new level of electronic products that can be introduced to many more people throughout the world because the cost of manufacturing those electronic products will be dramatically cheaper by using printing as the manufacturing process.
Precisia LLC is a separate business unit of Flint Ink Corp., the world's largest privately owned ink manufacturer, and provides conductive and advanced printing inks and electronics technology and processes. Precisia's offerings include essential materials for radio frequency identification (RFID) and other printed electronics applications, including smart/active packaging, printed electronics, lighting, and displays. For more information, please contact: Rychee Parmann, sales and development specialist, Tel: 734/205-6600 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.