Innovative Material and Design Enable Flexible On-Metal NFC Tags
NFC inlays and tags can now be used in many more industrial and commercial scenarios, following an innovative development from SMARTRAC.
Traditional NFC tags cannot be read when they’re applied to metal surfaces – a problem that has now been solved by a technological innovation from SMARTRAC: The introduction of NFC tags that combine flexible ferrite material and performance-optimized antenna designs on metal surfaces.
New, super-thin ferrite-based inlays can now be produced by applying a layer of this material to the inlay, which isolates the magnetic field from the metal surface. Ferrite redirects the reader’s inductive field, and prevents the energy from being wasted as heat within the metallic surface.
This means that NFC inlays and tags can now be used on a much wider range of metallic surfaces – concave, convex, possibly even roughened, rugged or grainy surfaces – and read by a smartphone or NFC reader.
Technical Challenges Overcome
Ferrite is a good radio frequency insulator, but its use in such applications is technically challenging, since it is inflexible and tends to break under pressure or mechanical stress. SMARTRAC has now introduced flexible ferrite-based NFC inlays suitable for roll-to-roll manufacturing processes. These deliver products in the RFID industry-standard roll format, which makes onward processing much easier and more cost-effective, and allows converters to overprint the inlays if required.
While standard ferrite-based NFC tags from other manufacturers are available, SMARTRAC has answered its customers’ needs for a truly flexible ferrite-based tag, which means that it can be delivered in a roll format, rather than as an encapsulated, singulated hard tag or foam-based inlays and tags.
Wider Range of Applications
The introduction of on-metal NFC products to SMARTRAC’s portfolio opens the door to all customer applications involving metal surfaces that need to be identified or interacted with.
Many general industrial and commercial use cases spring to mind: industrial and automotive customers who want to tag metallic parts, tools, machines, equipment, even metal doors and window frames, etc.; asset management; product authentication; grey market detection; warranty activation; planned maintenance confirmation; service and maintenance instructions; spare parts ordering; product feedback for product development, and many more.
Even the physical protection of industrial premises, where walls and doors are often made of metal, can benefit from this innovation. Security guards can verify that designated areas have been checked at various stages throughout their rounds, simply by tapping a smartphone against an NFC tag attached to a metal structure.
In terms of consumer goods, again, pretty much anything made from metal can now be NFC-enabled: think of tagging bicycles for product authentication, warranty activation, service instructions, spare parts ordering, product feedback for product development, or ownership registration; or tagging domestic items ranging from barbecues to tables, chairs, lamps, vases… the possibilities are endless.
Technology Adaptable to Suit Many Products
The new ferrite layer option will be made available across a range of SMARTRAC HF/NFC products, and will initially be offered for CIRCUS and BULLSEYE antenna types equipped with NXP’s NTAG213 IC. Looking ahead, there is essentially no limit to the range of different product sizes and shapes that can benefit from this technology.
Flexible and thin ferrite-based inlays are less than half a millimeter thick including the added ferrite layer. While the inlays’ read range may be slightly reduced, the advantage of being able to read an NFC inlay applied directly to a metal surface is of much more significance.