A strong commitment from Smartrac will ensure that the RFID pacesetter manufactures RFID products that live up to a true sustainability promise - even under strict Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) scrutiny.
As RFID inlays and tags are deployed in ever growing numbers in ever broader areas of applications, environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods and choices of materials are becoming more and more important to reduce the ecological impact of industries. This also reflects a growing interest in sustainability from a customer perspective, as end users are increasingly demanding precise information about how the products they use are manufactured. Overall, there is an ever-increasing demand for sustainable products from the market globally, particularly also from the textile and retail industry. Smartrac is already responding to this call for increased sustainability by the introduction of its Green Tag Program.
A track record in optimizing its ecological footprint
Smartrac is fully committed to providing a production concept that guarantees economical manufacturing with minimal ecological impact. With this aim in view, ISO 14001 certification has been obtained by all of the company’s facilities: in Fletcher, USA; Guangzhou, China; Kulim, Malaysia; and Reichshof-Wehnrath, Germany. The ISO 14000 family provides practical tools for companies and organizations seeking to identify and control their environmental impact.
The company already offers products in accordance with the RoHS Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substance use in electrical and electronic equipment) adopted by the European Parliament and Council. In addition, Smartrac products are halogen-free and meet these requirements according to IEC 61249-2-21 specifications.
Smartrac has also been researching in the fields of conductive ink, printing and design of RFID antennas on paper for several years. As a member of the Award-winning PING Consortium and partnering with leading business partners, it has established manufacturing processes to use paper as a substrate material to integrate RFID functionality. The greening of RFID products is part of Smartrac’s heritage, and an integral part of the company’s Social Responsibility concept, actively pursued for many years.
Strict Green Tag criteria
Smartrac’s Green Tag Program will further leverage this existing sustainability knowledge base, include the latest technology innovations, and ensure that customers’ business objectives are fully met. The Program sets an industry example and will therefore only award its products a Green Tag label if they verifiably meet strict criteria.
- Plastic-free, hence recyclable paper must be used as the substrate.
- Antenna materials must be free of heavy metals.
- No chemical etching of aluminum antennas is applied. This will allow the complete recycling of aluminum residues and will result in significant carbon footprint reduction.
- Printable antennas must be printed directly on recyclable cardboard.
- A minimal amount of adhesive is used for chip bonding.
In addition, a product-specific life cycle assessment study according to ISO14040/44 will be made available.
Setting the standard for RFID product Life Cycle Assessments
Today, it is still almost impossible to say just how much ecological impact RFID products may have, based on the materials and manufacturing processes used. An overall Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for RFID products simply does not exist. As for any other product, an LCA or at least an ecological footprint must be a basic consideration.
For Smartrac’s sustainable products, several dimensions of an LCA are considered crucial:
- the strict avoidance of hazardous substances according to the RoHS directive
- the avoidance of heavy metals
- the reduced use of coated (thus difficult to recycle) paper
- the reduced use of adhesives for chip attachment
- halogen-free products, e.g. avoidance of PVC as a substrate material
- the use of ecologically harmless inks for printed antennas
- the minimized use and avoidance of plastic material as raw material, in particular PET
- the optimization and avoidance of chemical etching processes.
Innovative manufacturing as the basis
To be able to rapidly establish a high-performance portfolio of demanding Green Tags for RAIN RFID and NFC products at competitive prices, Smartrac is currently implementing various new and innovative manufacturing technologies in close cooperation with key technology partners globally.
Gains already achieved include the optimal use of raw materials by a way of chemical etching-free, laser-assisted antenna manufacturing. Any Smartrac product that qualifies as a Green Tag uses minimal adhesive for chip bonding. Bonding via specifically designed chip contact bumps can provide a way to attach a chip to an antenna without conductive glue and is further helping with optimizing the use of raw materials.
Looking ahead, Smartrac expects to realize more benefits resulting from progress with printed antennas and new materials. While direct chip attachment to graphene printed antennas is still a challenge to be overcome, Smartrac already offers a patented loop coupling. Here, the far field antenna with a surface extension is coupled to a tiny loop manufactured according to optimized conventional processes, but with a much smaller consumption of raw materials compared to conventional antenna designs.
Sustainability is a business driver
In today’s world, sustainability has received a global mandate, becoming a key driver of innovation – which was not the case 10 years ago. Businesses can no longer avoid the significance of sustainability, but how businesses deliver their sustainability mandates must be competitive in terms of product capabilities, operational and supply chain efficiency, and economics. RFID technology is a major enabler for meeting these demands in a very effective way.