World's First Plastic NFC Tag that Communicates with Smartphones

Imec, Holst Centre and Cartamundi have demonstrated the world's 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. It was showcased at the 2017 International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco.

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.

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