Norwegian tech aing Thinfilm ample out a way to book tiny electronics chips on artificial surfaces, creating tiny acute labels to put on the Internet of Things, or acute and affiliated accustomed objects. While others are authoritative acutely able chips, Thinfilm is instead activity wide: It is abacus a little bit of intelligence to a lot of things.
When I aftermost bent up with Thinfilm (whose academic name is Thin Film Electronics, traded on the Norwegian Stock Exchange), its people were alive on a altered product. They had a super-thin, rewritable printed memory, which was a accumulator artefact that was printed assimilate a adjustable artificial surface. The aggregation accountant this technology to Xerox, which began press the anamnesis accessories in a branch in Roer, New York. Then Thin Film Electronics pivoted into a new affectionate of printed electronics.
Now the aggregation prints near-field communications (NFC) chips assimilate plastic, which can be pasted assimilate article like a liquor canteen as a acute label. You can browse the characterization with your smartphone aloof by affective the buzz aing to the label. That initiates a radio signal, account the abstracts in the NFC dent and appointment it to the internet-connected cloud.
Image Credit: Thinfilm
“We saw that smartphones with NFC advice would be all-over and accommodate a way for consumers to allotment claimed advice and barter it in acquittal systems and get advice about products,” said Davor Sutija, CEO of Thinfilm, in an account with VentureBeat. “Thinfilm has pivoted from a accoutrement aggregation to a business technology company.”
Rather than accomplish chips in a acceptable silicon dent branch (which can amount $3 billion to $5 billion to build), Thinfilm abstruse how to book circuits on top of adjustable substrates, as if it were press designs on a allotment of paper. And it has done so for abundant cheaper — it has alone aloft $105 actor to date during all of its existence. This is the company’s “hardware differentiator,” and it is enabling some actual absorbing advice amid brands and consumers, through the packaging.
Think about the challenges that brands face today, Sutija said. They accept been disintermediated by Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Those companies acquire a lot of profits from affairs or announcement cast merchandise. The amount isn’t so abundant in the cast anymore. It’s in the platform, like Amazon Prime, which delivers that branded artefact to you.
But Thinfilm gives a way for those brands to action back. That’s because the acute characterization that Thinfilm prints and puts on a canteen of Johnnie Walker Blue Characterization scotch is a means to acquaint with the consumer. The acute characterization authenticates Diageo’s bottle, assuming it isn’t counterfeit. And application NFC, it additionally can accomplish the consumer’s smartphone go to a webpage with alone promotions or a absolute articulation to the liquor company. That band-aid is now in acreage trials.
“I anticipate it is an important belvedere that allows companies of all types to innovate on in the Internet of Everything,” said Tim Bajarin, analyst at business consultancy Creative Strategies, apropos to the abstraction that aggregate will be affiliated to the Internet in the future. “The all-embracing role of printed circuits actuality activated to concrete altar to bear advice acquaintance credibility is important, and over time I accept it will enhance the all-embracing IOE ecosystem of accessories and services. Thinfilm has one of the best platforms for carrying this solution, and as they accomplish their software development kit alike added robust, I could see it actuality acclimated to bear abounding new and avant-garde NFC affiliated articles and solutions in the future.”
Image Credit: Thinfilm
“Our belvedere is an agent amid the cast and consumers,” Sutija said. “We now accept a complete business solution.”
Consider what Thinfilm is accomplishing with Hopsy, a website that sells beer from 60 bounded micro breweries in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thinfilm puts a acute characterization on the beer bottle. The chump curtains an NFC smartphone on the label, and it takes you to a video that describes the beer in a video. The consumer can alter added ability beer through that website, or booty advantage of promotions. And the beer aggregation gets to collaborate with a chump after spending a lot of money on ads.
“You can get assurance with consumers for a dime,” the amount of a label, Sutija said.
The NFC chips are axis out to be a bigger band-aid than earlier radio abundance identification (RFID) chips, as NFC is accepting congenital into aloof about every smartphone now. And you don’t charge a appropriate reader, as with RFID, to apprehend the abstracts in the chip. There are added than a billion smartphones with NFC inside.
There are added means that Thinfilm connects companies with consumers. Actual few consumers anytime ample out a assurance allotment and accelerate it aback to the manufacturer. But if you put a acute characterization on the allotment form, the chump can tap the characterization with a smartphone and automatically register. That can accord the chump advice on any recalls or updates on the product. Thinfilm has not alone created the chips to accomplish this possible; it additionally has the cloud-based software portal, dubbed Thinfilm Cnect, to accomplish it happen. In this way, Thinfilm gives brands a way to disintermediate the amusing networks and online marketplaces. And there are added uses.
“How can brands innovate if they don’t get acceptable abstracts aback from the consumers?” Sutija said. “You accept to actualize a agenda as able-bodied as a concrete character for brands.”
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
The anti-counterfeiting allotment of the technology is additionally a big deal. Millennials are acceptable to be added absorbed to acquirement an assurance arena application smartphone authentication. Sarine, a design company, is application Thinfilm to accredit its diamonds. You tap a affidavit on a acute characterization for a diamond. Then you can go to a website that certifies that the packaged account is accurate — and not acknowledging war.
“This is the distinct better blackmail to claret chunk this century,” Sutija said, apropos to the chunk mined in war zones and awash to accounts insurgencies. “It gives you the faculty that what you bought is absolutely account it.”
Overall, the aggregation is in 10 altered vertical markets, from biologic us affidavit to appearance verification. And it wants to move into more. In May, Thinfilm is publishing a book, NFC Mobile Business for Dummies.
The alone affair that has been attached Thinfilm to date is its accomplishment capacity, Sutija said. It has been architecture its chips on in a architecture in San Jose, California. But now it is affective to a bigger architecture with a abundant college accomplishment capacity. That facility, a above Qualcomm Mirasol affectation factory, will formally accessible on June 15. A new manufacturing bulb like this is a aberration in Silicon Valley today.
“Moving to that armpit is a accustomed aftereffect of the absorption we are accepting in the market,” Sutija said.
Image Credit: Thinfilm
While Intel is advantageous to get 100 chips on a 12-inch silicon wafer, Thinfilm can backpack abundant added on its bedding of plastic. It can put 13,000 NFC chips on a distinct 12-inch by 12-inch sheet, with anniversary dent demography about 1,500 transistors (less than Intel’s aboriginal 4004 chip in 1971). In the earlier building, the aggregation could accomplish conceivably 1 actor units a month. That was abundant for acreage trials, but Sutija said, “Now companies are allurement us to adduce 60 actor units.”
Thinfilm will alpha authoritative its anti-counterfeiting tags first. Then the aggregation will alpha authoritative transistors for the NFC tags in aboriginal third division of 2018. So the aggregation will go from 1 actor chips a ages to 100 actor a ages in about 15 months. By 2019, the aggregation will be able to accomplish 5 billion NFC chips a year and 1.5 billion anti-counterfeiting tags. It can accomplish that abounding because it is press the circuits on artificial bedding that can be unrolled through an accumulation line. That’s alleged roll-to-roll manufacturing, and it is acutely efficient. Added things fabricated with roll-to-roll accomplishment accommodate radio abundance identification (RFID) tags and solar cells.
“We access our accumulation admeasurement by 600 times, our activity costs go away, our basic expenditures get amortized, and the die becomes actual inexpensive,” Sutija said.
This may complete like a lot of NFC tags. But there are a lot of acceptable labels — maybe a abundance of them — that can be replaced with acute labels. And already Thinfilm accomplishes its task, it will be a key amateur in the Internet of Everything. Not bad for a aggregation with aloof 130 employees.
“We’re activity to calibration from millions to billions,” Sutija said.
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