On-Metal Tag Provides UHF, NFC on a Single Chip

On-Metal Tag Provides UHF, NFC on a Single Chip



Avery Dennison's new tag was designed to be applied to metallic goods, like healthcare supplies or appliances, to be read via a UHF reader in the supply chain or at a store, and as NFC with a smartphone.

Global technology company  Avery Dennison Smartrachas released a new dual-frequency radio frequency identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC) tag for use on metal, designed to allow companies and consumers to access and share information via UHF RFID readers, as well as with NFC-enabled smartphones.

The AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF tag is the second in Avery Dennison's family of tags that employ  EMMicroelectronic's dual-frequency chip to combine UHF and 13.56 HF-NFC functionality. The tag is being sampled now by companies in the retail, healthcare and industrial sectors, while Avery Dennison works with its partners to distribute it in large volumes. The tag is expected to be made commercially available in volume at the end of the first quarter of this year, with the release date dependent on chip availability.

The first dual-frequency tag from Avery Dennison was its Belt DF RFID product line, which provides UHF and NFC in a tag with a 76-millimeter (3-inch) form factor. Both tags leverage EMMicroelectronic's EM4425 technology, which consists of a single chip connected to two antennas, one dedicated to UHF, the other responding to interrogations compliant with ISO 15693 or ISO 14443 for HF and NFC technologies. The AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF offers a spacer-less, on-metal feature so that it can be applied to metal objects.

Traditional metal-mount tags often include a thin layer of ferrite material to isolate the RFID magnetic signal from the metal surface. Without that layer, the metal creates an RF reflection that affects tag performance. The AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF eliminates the need for that ferrite layer, which tends to make tags more expensive and bulkier, by using the metallic surface of the item to which it is attached to boost transmission, while separating both antennas from the metal in a flag format, according to Tuomas Koskelainen, Avery Dennison Smartrac's product manager.

The non-ferrite design means the tag costs less than a traditional on-metal tag, though the dual RFID functionality increases the tag's cost above that of an individual UHF or NFC tag. Koskelainen says the AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF serves the purposes that previously required two tags, however, and ultimately costs less than the expense of using two tags. What's more, he says, because both functions are being accomplished via a single IC, the data can be shared on the same system.

By enabling high-speed NFC or UHF encoding using a company's UHF infrastructure, Koskelainen explains, the solution offers retailers and brands the ability to more easily enable NFC-based consumer engagement. Companies can use a single tag for inventory management, work-in-progress and logistics, while providing an NFC-enabled enhanced brand experience by linking consumers to product information, brand messaging, promotional materials and other content. "We could have up-to-date information about presale, the sale itself and even in the home of the consumer after sale," he says.

In the retail industry, for instance, the UHF functionality in the AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF could be used from the point of manufacture all the way to sales at the store and beyond. If a UHF RFID infrastructure were set up at the manufacturing site, the tag could be read as metallic goods were made or shipped from the factory. That data could then be accessed and updated at distribution centers that employ fixed or handheld UHF RFID readers. Details could be shared with the brand or stores, providing visibility into the locations and statuses of new products. The readers could also be used to link data accessible via NFC.

When the goods arrive at a store, the tag could be read again in the receiving areas, or with a UHF handheld reader at the store front, in order to ensure the on-shelf availability of each item. The UHF RFID functionality could also be used at the point of sale, or to detect if a product has been sold and removed from the store. With the NFC feature, however, the tags can go home with customers so they, too, can benefit from data about the products they purchase. That data can be updated as needed by the retailer or brand.

In addition, brands could configure a system by which consumers could access specific data via their phones, including promotional information about products, along with UHF RFID-based information such as when and where a particular product was made. The tags could be applied to anything from an aluminum soda can to a home appliance. While capturing data from a tag on a soda can is technically viable, Koskelainen says, cost remains an issue, though that could change in the future. "This is the first viable opportunity toward the end goal of tagging even hard-to-tag, low-cost items," he states. In the long term, he hopes sales in larger volumes will continue to reduce tag costs.

The tags could be used in the healthcare industry for tracking medical devices or other assets. For instance, a tag could be applied to the metal frame of a hospital bed. The UHF RFID functionality could then be interrogated by handheld readers at a distance in the supply chain, or as goods move through a portal reader—for instance, when received at a hospital's loading dock. With the NFC functionality, hospital workers or others would have additional flexibility to learn more about a given bed via a smartphone. Reading the tag could provide information such as how to assemble the bed, as well as details indicating when it was received or would need to be returned, if it were a rental item.

The AD Midas Flagtag EM4425 DF additionally can be used for authenticating products, and in the future it will come with a tamper-loop antenna in addition to the UHF and HF external antennas, ensuring that if someone attempted to remove the tag or otherwise tamper with it, the tag would not operate properly, thereby alerting users to the problem. "It becomes limitless the kind of content that can be shared with a customer," Koskelainen states. He cites user manuals as an example, as well as warranty statements, building instructions and promotional campaigns.

Consumers could access information about how a particular product was produced, along with the amount of carbon dioxide required and labor practices. Some companies are offering dual-frequency tags with both a UHF chip and an NFC chip, though Avery Dennison says the advantage of the single chip is its ability to share memory. Data captured via UHF or NFC could be shared no matter how the tag was being interrogated. Users could update the UHF information with a mobile phone, for example, as well as write information for NFC and HF with a UHF reader.

Avery Dennison is currently sending the tags out in sample versions, and it is working with industry partners, systems integrators and inlay manufacturers to produce products and solutions based on the new technology. "We want to make sure our partners are also helping spearhead this development," Koskelainen says, while sampling is ongoing among retail and pharmaceutical companies. The firm is now developing other products focused on industrial or retail use cases, which will also provide the dual HF-NFC and UHF functionality.

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