Small Matters: The World’s Tiniest RFID Tags And Their Applications

Innovation in even smaller form factors, greater, more reliable reads over longer distances, less cost to acquire and deploy – just like the evolution of the IC foretold by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, there’s always a lot of interest when a tiny new RFID is released.

Such was the case when Japan-based SK-Electronics Co Ltd showcased a miniature on-metal UHF RFID tag at RFID Journal LIVE! earlier this year. The most novel feature was the small size of the tag which sits at a tiny 2.2mm X 2.5mm X 0.91mm high. Communication distance is at a maximum of 5mm including when embedded in, or attached to, metal or plastic resin. Whilst this might not sound like much, it is likely to be plenty for applications such as passing a hand-held reader over a piece of jewellery to confirm its authenticity.

SK Electronics aren’t the only company experimenting with micro RFID tags. Xerafy has previously developed a number of small RFID on-metal tags able to withstand a wide-range of environmental conditions and which measure around the size of a grain of rice. In 2017, Murata released an ultra-small UHF RFID measuring 1.25mm x 1.25mm x 0.55mm capable of a 10mm read-range and withstanding embedded processes offering traceability, authentication and brand protection capabilities.

It is Hitachi however, that holds the record of producing the world’s smallest RFID Chip at 0.05 x 0.05 millimetres in size and 7.5 micrometres thick. Known as RFID ‘powder’ or ‘dust’, these tags consist of 128-bit read only memory that can store a 38-digit number – a capability that holds promises for applications like embedding into bank notes for faster, easier identification and prevention of counterfeits.

Previous versions of Hitachi’s RFID µ-chips were integrated into tickets for the 2005 World Expo to prevent counterfeiting and tampering. Each ticket carried a unique ID which enabled streamlined reservations, check-in, and crowd control as well as the delivery of personalised, interactive services to attendee’s mobile devices. The performance of these tickets was also pretty impressive. According to Hitachi, whilst the show had over 22 million visitors, there was no confirmed incidence of ticket forgery and 0.001% incidence of ticket recognition error.

Researchers at Stanford University are currently working to create an RFID small enough to be inserted into a human cell. So far, the research team has been able to scale the chip and antenna down to 22 microns wide – one fifth the diameter of a human hair – and even embed it in the melanoma cell of a mouse. It is hoped that one day they will be able to be placed within cellular masses to give diagnostics and healthcare providers’ deeper insights into tumour behaviour and disease treatments.

Business Applications

Miniature RFID tags can be highly-useful for identifying assets in ways that are less visible, inconspicuous even, and do not impact asset operation and use. For example, in the case of tagging surgical tools, care must be taken to not alter the way the tool needs to be handled, or add to its weight, which can pose challenges for dentists and physicians when using them during surgery. Interestingly, SKI Electronics is claiming that their new tiny ruggedised tags can survive high heat, chemical environments, making sterilisation and autoclave possible – indicating this is the kind of market they foresee will be a good fit their new product. Micro RFID’s are also an alternative to applications where a bar code isn’t suitable and larger RFID tags are too cumbersome or expensive. This can include:

  • Medical and dental devices
  • Lab samples and test tubes
  • Printed circuit boards and electronics
  • Jewellery authentication
  • Insects and small animal scientific tracking and research
  • Tool tracking
  • Small componentry e.g. automotive
  • Small IT devices
  • Consumer electronics and wearables
  • Network / Copper Cabling
  • Embeddable in fabrics and laundry items

Enabling Item-Level Visibility, Traceability And Authenticity

Micro RFID tags can identify products during the manufacturing process and provide traceability through-life. The ability to track and trace data at item level is critical for many organisations and industries. Traceability represents the ability to capture, store and share accurate information about individual items and guarantees stakeholders on the origin, location, owners, custodians, workflows and life-history of an asset.

Relegen has long-standing expertise in deploying a wide-range asset tags from the worlds-leading manufacturers that can be affixed to any ‘thing’ to manage item uniqueness, location, chain-of-custody, operation, security, workflows, lifecycles and more. Whether your assets are big, small, mission-critical, mobile, linear, tangible, intangible, people, product and more, we deliver best-in-class solutions for all your asset identification and through-life needs. Our assetDNA and relegenDNA Mobile data capture platforms are tag and hardware-agnostic and will support any technology, including multiple technologies at once.

Given the rapid evolution of miniaturised RFID technology we have only touched on a few examples in this blog, so please get in touch via sales@relegen.com or +61(0)2 9998 9000 if there is a specific application or tag technology in which you are interested.