Several global online printers have begun piloting a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID-enabled sheet of paper for the printing of business cards, fliers and other paper products, without requiring specialized equipment. ISBC Group's technology was released in 2019 as NFC- or UHF RFID-enabled paper (see RFID Paper Turns the Page on Label and Card Printing). Now the company has developed partnerships with several paper distribution houses, as well as recently launching pilots that have led to approximately a million sales to date. This has enabled ISBC to produce labels, cards and ticket products made with inkjet, digital and offset printing.
That only skims the surface of what the company hopes to offer, however, according to Nikita Kozhemyakin, ISBC Group's director of business development. ISBC has recently partnered with Sappi, the latest paper manufacturer that has enabled it to offer paper made from a variety of materials, with built-in electronics so that high- or small-volume printers can quickly print products with embedded RFID chips and antennas. The Sappi partnership enables ISBC to offer a high-quality paper material as an alternative to plastic, with sheets that can be printed by standard printers to create plastic-quality goods, such as badges, access and loyalty cards, flyers and brand-protection labels.
ISBC is a global company headquartered in Singapore, with offices in Russia and Germany. It is targeting businesses that provide hangtags for retail products and consumer labels. ISBC had been seeking an alternative to plastic for smart printing when it chose Sappi's Swiss Matt paper, which is used primarily as an inkjet paper for large-format printing. The firm has also partnered with Tyvek Dupont (for nonwoven paper) and Yupo. The ISBC paper comes in a synthetic version from those companies, for such use cases as wristbands and water-resistant products.
For printers, the cost of NFC-enabled paper would typically be about 30 cents more than for standard paper, ISBC estimates, and those companies could then sell the NFC or UHF RFID-enabled cards at a cost of about 60 cents to $1 apiece. The firm has been building out its solution to make NFC-enabled paper more accessible to the online printing market, Kozhemyakin explains.
The company's RFID chips, Kozhemyakin says, are embedded into the paper in such a way that there is no impact on the paper's surface. Thus, printing companies can provide a smart version of their paper products without having to acquire new machinery for printing and cutting. Encoding and encryption of the product can be accomplished with a smartphone when lower volumes are being ordered, or with ISBC's ePerso certified encoding machine after the sheets are printed, for high-volume projects.
The targets for this technology are large and small on-line printing companies that print, cut and distribute fliers, postcards and other paper-based products according to specialized orders. ISBC hopes to enable printers to incorporate NFC or UHF RFID into their products without the expense of acquiring new printing equipment dedicated to printed electronics. The technology company has several use cases in mind, beginning with the online printing of business cards and postcards, but also including hangtags used by brands and retailers.
RFID-enabled hangtags often consist of an adhesive RFID label attached to a paper tag, whereas ISBC's paper version could be a single printed tag with embedded RFID functionality. The company intends to provide its sheets for brand protection, in the form of labels that could be applied to high-value products. Consumers could then use their phones to interact with each label by tapping the phone near the label and capturing data from the NFC tag. The interaction could include authentication of the product, but also potentially access to other content about that item.
When it comes to the online print market, however, a printing company would simply print ordered products on sheets of ISBC paper, then cut the paper in the same way that the existing equipment would print and cut standard products. The printers would then have several options. For example, they could use their own smartphones and an app to access information about the order and encode a link on each RFID tag relevant to the product, such as a business card with a link to the businessperson's name, title and contact information
Encoding in high volume could require that customers purchase an ePerso machine to encode and encrypt cards on a sheet-by-sheet basis. The ePerso has an Internet connection so its settings can be updated and upgraded remotely. It comes with an embedded Microsoft Windows software and encoding system. To link data to each tagged product, printers can acquire an application programming interface from ISBC to create a cloud-based system that automatically links a printing task with the related data, based on a customer's order.
The ePerso encoder can accommodate sheets containing up to 24 microchips, but the sheets must be inserted into the machine one at a time, which the company estimates would take three seconds per page. That would equate to 1,200 sheets per hour, according to ISBC, or four million products per month. The company hopes to sell its sheets of paper for tens of millions of business cards monthly. This year, it has developed partnerships with distributors in the United States, the United Kingdom, Indonesia and Romania, each of which can provide its own systems integration and consulting services to printers.
ISBC says it overcame some technical challenges to create the RFID-enabled paper. The tags must be flat within the paper, so that they can pass the tracks inside printing equipment. They must also be able to withstand heating and cooling during the printing process. The sheets should be tolerant of the impact of logistics and storage, as well as survive the cutting, embossing, punching and folding equipment used with paper. The sheets can include 13.56 MHz HF tags compliant with the ISO 14443 and 15693 standards, using NXP Semiconductors' MIFARE, NTAG or ICODE chips, or UHF using UCODE 8 chips. The company also employs chips from Infineon. The 13-inch by 19-inch paper is available in five typical layouts for the RFID chips.
The company has also released smart postcards that consumers could purchase while traveling, enabling them to encode a card with a URL leading to their website. Photographers could include data related to their studio and how they can be reached, and this information could be provided via the NFC chip built into each picture.
In addition, ISBC anticipates an NFC-enabled application for fortune cookies. Any diners who might choose to take their fortunes home with them could then access changing daily fortunes by tapping the phone against the strip of paper. "They could be taken home to scan a new prediction for each day," Kozhemyakin says. The paper is certified for use on digital HP Indigo press printers, though it would also work with other traditional digital printers.
Although the RFID-enabled paper would cost more than standard paper, Kozhemyakin says, the added functionality and the ability to charge customers for that functionality would ultimately benefit printers. "If they convert three percent of their customers to these types of products," he says, "they can dramatically increase their profit." By making RFID functionality available for standard paper printers, he adds, ISBC hopes to open up the world of RFID to commercial printing, an industry that has never much used the technology previously.