The fortunes of industrial inkjet applications and low cost RFID antennas are inextricably linked. Other applications include flexible circuits and thin-film batteries. Just rolled out is the Metaljet 6000, a fast roll-to-roll digital metal printer, claimed to drive down standard UHF antenna unit costs to less than 1 Euro cent — about 13 US cents — excluding the PET substrate. The system was developed by Conductive Inkjet Technology (CIT) in Cambridge, England, in partnership with Preco Inc., based in Lenexa, KS, USA.
The print engine has Xaar piezo printheads that write directly onto 6" wide nonporous substrates using CIT’s UV curable inkjet ink. The nonconductive ink contains a catalyst, which after curing allows the coating to become conductive within a development processor. A patented web accumulator integrated into the system enables a fast electroless metal deposition process, removing the need for large chemistry baths. Around 50nm to 1µm of copper is deposited where required to provide a lower-cost alternative to etched copper. According to Preco, a manufacturer of laser cutting machines and diecutter systems, the bitmap format makes job changes easy. There are no plates and no cleanup. Process speeds are claimed to be up to 60 feet per minute. The MetalJet 6000 offers the option of including incremental unit numbering or coding, allowing smart labels to be combined with more traditional coding techniques.