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Geometric and Compaction Dependence of Printed Polymer-Based RFID Tag Antenna

Performance
*
S Y Y Leung and D C C Lam
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Clear Water Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China
E-mail: melyy@ust.hk, david.lam@ust.hk

*
Accepted for publication in the IEEE Trans. on Electronics Packaging Manufacturing
Abstract
Radio frequency identification (RFIDs) tag with printed
antennas are lower in costs, but have lower performance than
those with metal antennas. Printed antennas can replace metal
ones if the performance is increased without raising cost. The
performance of printed antennas can be increased if the series
resistance in the antennas is lowered. The resistance is
dependent on the line thickness and the resistivity of the
conductive ink. Printed antennas with different line
thicknesses were fabricated to investigate the effect of
compaction and thickness on the resistance. The resistance of
the printed antenna coils was decreased by more than 40%
after compaction, while the inductance and the parasitic
capacitance were unchanged. RFIDs with compacted printed
antennas were found to have significantly increased the read
range. RFIDs with thick printed antennas were fabricated and
tested. These RFIDs were shown to have read ranges
comparable to the RFIDs with copper wire antennas.
Moreover, a geometry-independent plateau for the read range
was found. The presence of a plateau is valuable for thick-line
printed antenna design since the plateau will enable the usage
of lower precision high volume printing techniques to lower
tag fabrication cost.
Introduction
A variety of radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs) is
available for wireless tracking of objects large and small.
Pallets parked in a spacious warehouse are widely spaced
compared to items on shelves, and so require RFIDs that can
be read over long distances. RFIDs which operate at ultra
high frequency (UHF) have a wide read range, but signals at
this frequency are relatively easily absorbed by fluids and
metals [1]. High frequency (HF) tags operating at 13.56MHz
are better suited for tracking items in absorbing environments.
Antennas for UHF tags can be small. The planar inductor
coils serving as antennas for HF tags are typically larger and
are built separately on organic substrates instead of on silicon
chips. Such coil antennas are made from aluminum or copper,
and are relatively expensive compared with the tags
themselves. Conductive ink based printed antennas on low
cost substrates are lower in cost, but normally have a lower
quality factor (Q) [1, 2] and more limited read range because
of the higher resistance of the printed antenna lines.
The read range of a tag is governed by the inductive
coupling behavior of the tag and the reader. The equivalent
circuit diagram of an induction-coupled RFID system is shown
in Figure 1. The voltage induced in the tag coil supplies
power for the die circuit to function. An embedded capacitor
in the die circuit is connected with the tag coil to form a
resonant circuit. The relationship between the tag parameters
and the maximum read range has been analyzed [3-5] as a
function of the electrical components. The ratio between the
voltage in the die circuit
IC
V and the voltage induced at the
tag coil
ind
V is
2 2
2
2 2
2 2 2 2
1
1
IC
ind
IC IC
V
V
L R
R C L C
R R
e
e e
=
| | | |
+ + ÷ +
| |
\ . \ .
, (1)
where e is the angular frequency of the signal,
2
L is the
inductance of the tag coil,
2
R is the series resistance of the
antenna coil;
IC
R is the circuit load resistance on the die;
2
C
is the sum of the embedded capacitance in die
IC
C and the
parasitic capacitance of the tag coil
p
C . For simplicity, V
IC
can be defined as
IC Q ind
V S V = (2)
where
2 2
2
2 2
2 2 2 2
1
1
Q
IC IC
S
L R
R C L C
R R
e
e e
÷
| | | |
+ + ÷ +
| |
\ . \ .
. (3)
Die
L1 L2
R2
Cp CIC
Vind
RIC
M
I1 I2
VIC
Reader
Antenna
Tag
Coil
L2
R2
Cp
Vind
I2
Tag
Coil
Figure 1. Equivalent circuit diagram of an inductive
coupled RFID system
If the series resistance of the antenna coil is kept low, S
Q
can be maintained high. On the other hand, the quality factor
Q at the resonant frequency (
2 2
1 L C e = ) is dependent on
R
2
as
2
2 2
2
2
1
IC
L
Q
R L
R
L R
e
e
e
= ~
+
for
2 IC
R R >> , (4)
which means that increasing R
2
will reduce Q.
The induced voltage
ind
V depends on the coil geometry
and the distance away from the reader antenna. The
ind
V
developed across the terminals of the transponder coil is
2 1 ind
V MI e e = u = , (5)
where
2
u is the flux across the tag antenna coil, M is the
mutual inductance between the reader coil and the tag coil,
and
1
I is the current through the reader coil.
2
u is the
magnetic induction over the surface area of the tag coil [6]
( )
2
2 0 1 1 2 2 3
2 2 2
2
r
N I N A
d
|
µ µ
|
| |
|
u =
|
|
+
\ .
, (6)
where
r
µ is the relative permeability of the substrate,
0
µ is
the permeability of air, | is the radius of the reader coil, d
is the distance between the reader antenna coil and the tag
coil,
1
N is number of turns in the reader coil,
2
N is number
of turns in the tag coil, and
2
A is the area of the tag coil.
Substituting equation (6) into (5) and rearranging gives the
maximum read range for the inductive RFID system, d, in
terms of the coil’s area and the electrical parameters as
2
2
3
0 1 1 2 2 2
2
r Q
IC
N I N A S
d
V
eµ µ |
|
| |
= ÷
|
|
\ .
. (7)
The influence of the electrical parameters are related to
Q
S ,
which is shown in equation (3).
Printed antennas are made from conductive inks with
higher resistivity than bulk copper, and their read ranges are
lower than those of copper antennas. In this study, the effect
of geometry was investigated to determine if the read range
behavior follows the predictions of equation (7). Since the
series resistance of a printed coil depends on its geometry, the
operating frequency, and the resistivity of the ink, low
resistance coil geometries were examined to determine if
printed coils can be designed with read range performance
comparable to that of copper coils. In addition, a compaction
technique for reducing the resistivity of the ink was
investigated to determine whether it could increase the read
range of a printed antenna.
Experimental Method
A. Fabrication of tag coils
Octagonal planar coils (Figure 2) were fabricated to
determine the effects of materials and geometries (Figure 3
and Table I) on the performance of the tags. In order to
minimize the printing tolerance, coil line design with >1mm
line widths were used [7]. A polyester mesh screen with
196T/inch was used in this study. Silver-filled conductive
polymer paste (Coates ZX250) was screen printed on 100 µm
thick polyethylene terephthalate (PET) substrates with a
screen printer (DEK model 260) and then cured using the
manufacturer’s recommend curing procedure. Samples were
printed repeatedly to increase line thickness as required. The
drying time between each run was about 15 minutes. The coil
thicknesses after curing were measured using a digital
micrometer (Mitutoyo 293-721-30). Copper coils (15µm line
thickness) on PCB with were also prepared for comparison.


Figure 2. An RFID tag coil fabricated by screen printing a
conductive paste onto a flexible PET substrate


Figure 3 Schematic of the antenna coils listed in
Table 1
T
Table 1. Test coil parameters*
Layout Inner
diameter
din (mm)
Outer
diameter
dout
(mm)
Line
width
w
(mm)
Line
space
s
(mm)
#
turns
N2
Line
length
(mm)
A 39.5 50.5 1.0 0.5 4 608
B 20 44 1.5 0.5 6 637
C 38.5 54.5 1.5 0.5 4.25 645
D 19.5 37.5 1.0 0.5 6 564
* Printed coil line thickness range from 10 to 78µm after
cured.
B. Pressure compaction of conductive ink
A composite of conductive ink with metal fillers was used
to print the antennas. Electrical current is carried in such a
composite from one filler particle to another through point
contacts in a network of contacting particles. The
conductivity of the network can be increased by increasing the
inter-particle contact area. Heat treating the filler at high
temperature can cause them to sinter, which increases the
contact area [8]. To avoid breakdown of the organic
components, low temperature sinterable nano-silver or nano-
copper filled inks with sintering temperatures <150
o
C are
required [9].
The inter-particle contact area of the micron-sized filler
particles can also be increased by compaction. The effect of
compaction on coil resistance was investigated using a cured
printed coil. The coil was pressed at 980psi using a hot press
(Technical Machine Product - model HVP) at 160
o
C for 10
minutes. The electrical behavior of the compacted coil was
then tested.
C. Electrical characterization
A subminiature version A (SMA) connector was mounted
on each individual test coil and connected to a network
analyzer (Agilent E5071B). One port S-parameter of the coil
was scanned from 300kHz to 15MHz. The coil inductance,
the series resistance, and the parasitic capacitance were
delineated with an equivalent circuit model (Figure 4). In
addition, the DC series resistance was measured using a
multimeter (UNI-T DT830E).
D. Maximum read range measurement of the fabricated RFID
tags
An ISO 15693-compliant RFID die (EM Microelectronic
4135) embedded with a 90pF capacitor was used to examine
the read range. The RFID tags were fabricated by connecting
the coils with the RFID die bonded inlays. The maximum
read range of the RFID tag was measured with a 13.56MHz
RFID reader (EM Microelectronic 4094). The reader antenna
was a planar circular coil with a diameter of 12cm and 2 turns
(Figure 5). The RFID tag was flat mounted parallel facing the
reader antenna and tested. Twenty detection trials were
performed for each d setting, and the number of successful
detections was recorded and plotted as a probability function.
(For details of this data reduction procedure, please refer to
the Appendix.) The maximum read range of each tag was
defined as the distance (d) at which the probability function
predicted a 90% success rate for detection.
Figure 4. Printed coil with a SMA connector to be
attached to a network analyzer for measurement (left) and
the equivalent circuit model (right) to delineate the
electrical parameters. L is the coil inductance; R is the
series resistance; and C is the parasitic capacitance
Figure 5. The set up for RFID tag reading test
Results and Analysis
A. Inductance and resistance of the printed coils
The measured parasitic capacitance of the coils was
5.0±0.4pF for the sampled geometries. The inductance was
constant and independent of line thickness (Figure 6). In the
absence of skin effect, the series resistance of the coil, R2, is
2
l
R
wT
µ = (8)
where µ is the electrical resistivity of the conductor material,
l is the line length of the coil, w is the line width, and T is
the line thickness.
2
R at 13.56MHz as a function of
Read
Distance (d)
Reader
antenna
RFID tag
mounted on
flat plate
reciprocal line thickness are shown in Figure 7. The data vary
linearly with the reciprocal line thickness. The behavior is
similar to the DC resistance’s dependence on the thickness,
which confirmed that the skin effect is negligible for the
printed coils at 13.56MHz. The skin effect may become
significant if operating frequency is increased [10]. Since the
inductance and the parasitic capacitance were independent of
the line thickness, changes in the read range as a function of
line thickness directly attributed to the coil resistance’s
dependence in S
Q
.

1.25
1.3
1.35
1.4
1.45
1.5
1.55
0 20 40 60 80 80
A B C D
I
n
d
u
c
t
a
n
c
e

(
µ
H
)
Line Thickness (µm)

Figure 6. Measured coil inductance as a function of coil
line thickness. The layout of the coils refer to
Table 1

0
0.01
0.02
0.03
0.04
0.05
0 4 10
4
8 10
4
1.2 10
5
DC
13.56MHz
y = 4.0344e-07x R= 0.943
y = 4.6866e-07x R= 0.95866
R
2
w
/
l
1/T (m
-1
)

Figure 7. Geometry normalized series resistance as a
function of reciprocal line thickness

B. Maximum read range of the printed tags
The maximum read ranges of the fabricated tags are
plotted against the series resistance of the coil in Figure 8.
Copper samples (indicated with arrows) were included for
comparison. The maximum read range decreased with
increasing series resistance. Furthermore, the maximum read
ranges of the tags with larger coil areas (configurations A and
C) were higher than those of tags with smaller coil areas
(configurations B and D) at comparable series resistance.
0.03
0.04
0.05
0.06
0.07
0.08
0.09
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
A B C D
M
a
x

R
e
a
d

R
a
n
g
e

(
m
m
)
R
2
(Ohm)

Figure 8. Measured maximum read range as a function of
series resistance accompany with model predictions (lines).
Data points indicated with arrows are copper samples
0.03
0.04
0.05
0.06
0.07
0.08
0.09
0 0.04 0.08 0.12
A B C D
M
a
x

R
e
a
d

R
a
n
g
e

(
m
m
)
N
2
A
2
S
Q

Figure 9. Measured maximum read range as a function of
tag parameters. Data points indicated with arrows are
copper samples
The influence of coil area and the electrical parameters can
be observed by plotting the maximum read ranges of the tags
against the tag parameters
2 2 Q
N A S , as shown in Figure 9.
The copper samples (indicated with arrows) are also included
for comparison. The maximum read range of the tags
increased with
2 2 Q
N A S in accordance with the read range
equation (7). More importantly, the plot shows that the
maximum read range of the copper tags was comparable with
that of the printed tags.

C. Measured parameters of the pressure compacted tag
The measured tag parameters of the pressure compacted
sample (Layout D) before and after hot pressing are shown in
Table 2. The resistivity decreased by more than 64% after
compaction, while the line thickness decreased by more than
40% and the line width increased slightly by 4.8%. At the
same time, the measured coil resistance decreased by more
than 40% with negligible change in inductance. Clearly, while
an increase in resistance from area reduction (equation (8)) is
expected, the coil resistance change is dominated by the
reduction in the coil material resistivity from compaction.
This resulted in an increase of the maximum read range of the
tag by more than 16%, and is in line with the theoretical
predictions. If the resistivity was unaffected by compaction, a
printed line thickness of about 21µm will be required to
achieve the same coil resistance reduction. In other words,
more than 42% (by volume) of conductive ink was saved by
the compaction process to achieve the same maximum read
range.

Table 2. Comparison of tag parameters before and after
press treatment (Layout D coil)
w T (µm) L2 R2 (Ω) N2A2SQ d (mm)
(mm) (µH)
No
treatment
1.05 12 1.44 23.2 9.31x10
-3
38.4
After
Pressed
1.10 7 1.43 13.5 15.62x10
-3
44.8
% Change 4.8% -41.7% -0.69% -41.8% 67.8% 16.7%

Discussion
The maximum read range of the fabricated RFID tags
varied according to equation (7). Increasing the tag coil area
2 2
N A and
Q
S increased the maximum read range.
However, the increase was limited by the power requirements
of the system. The limits of the model can be demonstrated by
plotting the read range data in normalized form (Figure 10)
with the maximum read range and reader antenna parameters
are grouped in the abscissa. The maximum read range
followed the model prediction up to
2 2 Q
N A S values of about
0.05, then reached a plateau. Further increases beyond this
plateau would require increased power transfer from the
reader [11]. This read range plateau can be smartly exploited
by designers concerned about fabrication. Instead of designing
RFIDs in the increasing regime, tags designed within to the
plateau regime is more tolerant of fabrication imprecision, and
low cost, high throughput printing can be used to fabricate the
antennas. This will help to reduce tag cost, enabling item
level tag applications to become more popular.
0
0.04
0.08
0.12
0 0.04 0.08 0.12
A B C D
2
V
I
C
(
d
2
+
|
2
)
1
.
5
/
e
µ
|
2
N
1
I
1
N
2
A
2
S
Q

Figure 10. Normalized maximum read range as a function
of tag parameters. Data points marked with arrows were
copper samples

Conclusions
The electrical behavior at high frequency of RFID tags
with printed coil antennas and their maximum read ranges
were experimentally measured in this study. The coil antennas
were fabricated by screen printing using a polymer based,
silver filled, conductive ink. Printed tags with maximum read
ranges comparable to those with metal line antennas were
fabricated by increasing the line thickness to minimize the
series resistance of the coil. Pressure compaction of the
printed coil to enhance contact among the filler particles was
shown to be effective in reducing the printed ink’s resistivity
and extend the maximum read range of the tag without
additional conductive ink cost. No significant change in
inductance was observed before and after compaction, or as a
result of increasing line thickness. A dimensionless
representation of the maximum read range was found to
plateau. Antennas printed for commercial applications
designed in the plateau regime will have high geometric
tolerance and allow high throughput printing be used for the
production of antennas.
Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the Research Grants Council
of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China,
under projects RGC HKUST6190/03E, 615007, and 615505.
Appendix
At each d setting, twenty detection trials were performed
and the number of successful detections was recorded. A
typical data plot of a detection performance versus d is shown
in Figure A1. The probability of detection at each distance
was defined as the number of successes divided by the total
number of trials at that distance. The detection probabilities
for the data shown in Figure A1 are shown in Figure A2. The
probability data were fitted by logistic regression [12]. The
functional form of the logistic curve is
( )
1
( )
1 exp
P d
d m
b
=
÷ ÷ (
+
(
¸ ¸
, (A1)
where m and b are the logistic mean and shape factor,
respectively. The maximum read range of a tag was taken as
the d with a 90% success probability.
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0
5
10
15
20
-100 -80 -60 -40 -20 0
N
o
.

o
f

s
u
c
c
e
s
s
f
u
l

r
e
a
d
Read Distance (d)

Figure A1. A typical result of the number of successful
reads versus read distance

0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
-100 -80 -60 -40 -20 0
P
r
o
b
a
b
i
l
i
t
y

o
f

s
u
c
c
e
s
s
f
u
l

r
e
a
d

(
P
)
Read Distance (d)

Figure A2. A probability plot of the data shown in Figure
A1