Chicago—International Paper Co. announced that it will team up to with Motorola, Inc. to bring "smart cardboard" to the supply chain, thus giving manufacturers the ability to track even low cost, disposable products after they leave the dock.
The new technology, demonstrated at Pack Expo International in Chicago during November, provides a unique serial number for every package and uses inexpensive radio frequency techniques to transmit the package ID (RFID) to handheld computers. Engineers at Motorola and International Paper believe that the new technology could bring the bar code a step closer to obsolescence. "The bar code was born 25 years ago and now it's coming to its useful end," says Steven Van Fleet, manager of e-packaging for International Paper's Cincinnati Technology Center. "Every package in the future is going to use an RFID tag."
International Paper was scheduled to employ RFID technology developed by Motorola's Worldwide Smart Card Solutions Division (San Jose, CA) by the end of last year. The company says it will eventually use the RFID "tags" on packages ranging from breakfast cereals to lipstick boxes.
Key to International Paper's "smart packaging" is the Motorola technology, introduced in 1999. International Paper engineers say that the Motorola system offers greater potential than past RFID efforts, because it uses a capacative technique, rather than the more traditional inductive methods. As a result, it keeps costs low because it eliminates the need for the more three-dimensional wire coils usually used in inductive systems.
Motorola's entire RFID system consists of a paper transponder, an RFID chip, and a self-adhesive label, known as an "interposer." To create an identification "tag," Motorola places its silicon RFID chip, known as the BiStatix chip, atop the conductive interposer. Then it attaches the self-adhesive interposer to the transponder, which consists of conductive ink on paper.
Unlike bar codes, the new RFID tags will be programmable. Each BiStatix chip contains 96 bits of information—enough to carry a unique serial code for trillions of individual packages.
International Paper engineers say they plan to mass produce the transponders using a low-cost web conversion process, and then plan to use pick-and-place machinery to apply the interposers to the paper. "We're using a carbon black ink to print the antenna on a piece of paper, instead of using a metal etching process," notes Rich Rudolph, project manager for the small e-packaging program at International Paper. "So the costs are far lower."
Using the process, engineers say they can now drive the cost of an RFID tag to less than 30 cents apiece, and maybe as low as 10 cents each. As a result, they expect to push RFID technology into low-cost, disposable packaging, which has not been considered feasible up to now.
Ultimately, engineers hope to drive the cost down to 2 or 3 cents per package, which would enable its use in virtually every kind of package. "There are billions of boxes in the world," Rudolph says. "So there's going to be a tremendous need for a low cost RFID technique."