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Imec, Holst Centre and Cartamundi Introduce Plastic NFC Tag Communicating with Smartphones

Published: Feb 08,2017

Today, at the 2017 International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, imec and Holst Centre and Cartamundi demonstrate a world first thin-film tag on plastic, compatible with the near field communication (NFC) Barcode protocol, a subset of ISO14443-A, which is available as standard in many commercial smartphones. The innovative NFC tag is manufactured in a thin-film transistor technology using indium gallium zinc oxide thin-film transistors (IGZO TFT) on a plastic substrate.

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Plastic electronics offers an appealing vision of low-cost smart electronic devices in applications where silicon chips were never imagined before. Itemlevel identification, smart food packaging, brand protection and electronic paper are just a few examples. Such new applications will require a continuous supply of countless disposable devices.

Imecʼs IGZO TFT technology uses large-area manufacturing processes that allow for inexpensive production in large quantities - an ideal technology for ubiquitous electronic devices in the Internet-of-Everything.

“Making a plastic electronics device compatible to the ISO standard originally designed for silicon CMOS was a very challenging research and development expedition” stated Kris Myny, senior researcher at imec. “Our collaboration with Cartamundi enabled us to develop a truly industry-relevant solution”.

The researchers developed a self-aligned TFT architecture with scaled devices optimized for low parasitic capacitance and high cut-off frequency. This allowed design of a clock division circuit to convert incoming 13.56 MHz carrier frequency into system clock of the plastic chip. Optimizations at logic gate and system level reduced power consumption down to 7.5mW, enabling readout by commercial smartphones.

“These research innovations are the first major achievements of my ERC starting grant”, stated Kris Myny, principal investigator and holder of the prestigious ERC starting grant FLICs (716426).

“This innovative hardware solution of plastic NFC tags opens up several new possibilities for NFC deployments,” stated Alexander Mityashin, program manager at imec. “Thanks to the nature of thin-film plastics, the new tags can be made much thinner and they are mechanically very robust. Moreover, the self-aligned IGZO TFT technology offers manufacturing of chips in large volumes and at low cost”.

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