imec debuts plastic NFC tag, compatible to ISO protocols

Today, at the 2017 International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, imec, the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, Holst Centre (established by imec and TNO) 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.

Plastic electronics offers an appealing vision of low-cost smart electronic devices in applications where silicon chips were never imagined before. Item-level 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.  Imec’s 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.

The results were presented in paper 15.2 (“A Flexible ISO14443-A Compliant 7.5mW 128b Metal-Oxide NFC Barcode Tag with Direct Clock Division Circuit from 3.56MHz Carrier”, by K. Myny, Y.-C Lai, N. Papadopoulos, F. De Roose, M. Ameys, M. Willegems, S. Smout, S. Steudel, W. Dehaene, J. Genoe, Feb. 7, 2017).

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