This new funding is expected to bring Thinfilm's thin, flexible smart sensor technology to a wide range of industries, including healthcare, food and beverage, retail, and more for use in both digital marketing and counterfeiting.
“The funds are really all about our scale-up initiative,” explains Bill Cummings, VP of marketing and communication at Thinfilm. “We want to get to a point where we are able to manufacture our NFC tags at ultra-scale, so we can address the needs of many of the large brands that we’re talking to. It’s about fulfilling our vision to make everyday items smart and bring intelligence to everyday items.”
Thinfilm intends to bring smart functionality to the disposable level. The roll-to-roll manufacturing line will aid these efforts, and the production will take place at a new facility in San Jose, CA, USA. “This particular piece of equipment is going to be one of a kind,” says Cummings. “It’s going to be unique. It does not exist in the industry today.”
Thinfilm has been working with vendors and consultants on an international level to identify and optimize equipment to meet the industry’s growing needs in the smart technology sector. The equipment will be customizable in order to manufacture chips utilized in NFC Speedtap and NFC OpenSense. “We’ll also be able to leverage this roll-to-roll equipment to manufacture our EAS (Electronic Article Surveillance) tags as well,” Cummings adds.
Smart labeling has already had a significant presence in the craft beer and spirits industries. Thinfilm has partnered with Diageo on a Johnnie Walker smart bottle, and discussions are ongoing with other mainstream brands as well. “There’s been a heightened focus on brands and companies that cater to Millennials,” says Cummings. “If you think about the way Millennials like to receive information today–the way they go about their shopping experience–it’s primarily mobile-centric.”
Consumers can conduct research and even purchase products–at home or in the store–with mobile devices, making smart labels a burgeoning industry trend. Thinfilm’s goal is to add “a little bit of intelligence to a lot of things.” Historically, price has been an inhibitive factor in the proliferation of smart labeling.
“Any items beyond [the traditional device-to-device communication], it didn’t really make economic sense to infuse intelligence into it,” explains Cummings. “The intelligence that existed was just too expensive and the product couldn’t bear the additional cost.”
By moving to roll-to-roll production, Thinfilm expects to produce up to five billion NFC technology smart labels that are online and communicative with Android smart phones by 2018. “Now you’re at a scale and economic price point at which it does make sense, in many scenarios, to affix this intelligence to products.”
These smart labels might be found on anything from everyday food items, disposable coffee cups, bottles of wine, and more. Thinfilm can then extend the traditional boundaries of the IoT. A current Thinfilm project is underway with a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, where doctors and caregivers can monitor patient adherence.
“The feedback has been tremendous,” concludes Cummings. “One of the primary areas where we’re getting great feedback and interest is from some leading global brands dealing with consumer engagement. The way it used to work, the brand would connect directly with the consumer through traditional advertising like television or the radio. Over time, what’s happened is there’s been an intermediation in between the brand and the consumer. Now social platforms, search engines and online marketplaces print reviews and the brand loses control of the message. They’re then at the mercy of Google algorithms or any number of reviews on Yelp that might be legitimate or they might not be. Our technology is really looking to re-establish that direct connection with the consumer and the brand to tap directly into the product and hear from the brand.”