Murata Electronics' Magicstrap Concept: Revolution on the Circuit Board

Articles | By Murata Elektronik | 07 January 2016
To add RFID to production directly during the manufacturing process is the most effective way of source tagging. To add RFID to production directly during the manufacturing process is the most effective way of source tagging. Photo: Murata Electronics

“RFID is the Most Effective Method of Source Tagging”

Embedded miniature tags on circuit boards are well-established in electronics production. However, other industries, such as the automotive industry, could profit from “smart” objects too.

To already equip products with RFID tags in the production phase and thus make them traceable until the “end of life” – this is the vision Murata Electronics has been consistently pursuing for the past five years with their “Magicstrap”. As the driving force of the idea to establish the RFID miniature models of the Japanese technology group in the European electronics industry, Alexander M. Schmoldt says: “Today, source tagging has proven to be an effective and worthwhile application that is in productive use at leading manufacturers such as Schneider Electric. However, the concept can equally well be transferred to other industries such as automotive added value chains.

Alexander M. Schmoldt, Business Development Manager, Murata Electronics, in an interview with “RFID im Blick”

The Magicstrap concept: revolution on the circuit board

“It was a small revolution for the electronics industry when Murata introduced the Magicstrap to the market,” explains Alexander Schmoldt, Business Development Manager, Murata Electronics. The idea of directly adding miniature UHF tags to the circuit board, was a technical innovation at that time: The Magicstrap concept is based on the inversion of the physical principle and thus allows the transformation of metallic objects into an RFID tag. “More than 90 percent of the PCBs have an enlarged copper layer, the so-called ‘ground plane‘. We turned the main obstacle into an advantage by using the metal surface of the PCB instead of the dipole aerial as booster antenna. On top of that, the approach was completely new: to make products traceable right from their creation and throughout the whole value chain – from the cradle to the grave, brings an entirely new view on added value chains into play.”

Alexander M. Schmoldt“RFID is a key element of Industry 4.0 concepts and offers the potential to reach a cyclical view of materials that is of high economic importance.” - Alexander M. Schmoldt

From innovation in the electronics industry to a standard

The decision to first approach the electronics industry in Europe with our solution was obvious as market access had already been established. To begin in an industry sector that is far away from our core business would surely have been difficult or nearly impossible,” elaborates Alexander Schmoldt. Being the key driver of the project, he also initiated the consortium “RFID Value Creators”, an association of European technology partners that realised a whole solution for the electronics sector. As an early adopter, Schneider Electric first used the Magicstrap system for production control five years ago. For three years, the system has been productively running at Schneider Electric and was also deployed to other electronics manufacturers. “We can say today: the solution is established in electronics production and is well on its way to becoming a branch standard. Plus, the solution can also be transferred to other industrial sectors.”

The Next Step in 2014: To embed tags in plastic injection moulding processes

In 2014 Murata took another decisive leap forward in development: the company developed a miniature tag which, in its smallest version, has a size of just 2.0 x 1.2 mm² and is so robust that it can be put directly into products during the plastic injection moulding process. “RFID tags are the most effective method of source tagging – and also the only one possible,” explains Alexander Schmoldt. Optical codes cannot be used right from the start of the production process. Moreover, low cost tags wouldn’t survive the production processes unscathed. “If you use very robust tags, this is no problem technically. The second innovation is that we realised UHF and HF as well as NFC tags. This extends the application range to almost limitless potential because products can now be identified using NFC-enabled smartphones throughout the whole chain and all around the world.”

The future: complex metal objects become smart too

For their next step, which Murata is already actively pushing forward in research projects, is to equip fully metallic objects with a Magicstrap. In principle, the tag is suitable for many different objects, such as vapour-deposited metal foils for food packaging materials or surgical instruments. By drilling small cavities into metal – or also as a standalone tag – miniature tags can be integrated into scissors, for example, or even complexly-shaped objects. This becomes technically realisable because the Magicstrap makes use of the surface currents of the metal. Another advantage is that the material expenditure is minimized.”

From development to recycling: Smart products with RFID exploit potentials throughout the entire added valued chain and beyond

Automotive industry: RFID as part of the design

In the car industry, an average of 40 to 50 circuit boards are installed in one vehicle. This number is expected to double or triple within the next ten years. “To integrate RFID in PCB or plastic components of vehicles is therefore not a distant future as it promises to have significant potential. At many OEM and suppliers, RFID is a technological standard and is actively integrated in project implementations. RFID as a part of the production design could allow the suppliers to provide the supply chain with parts already tagged during the prototype production. A joint research project with an automotive supplier has already submitted first evidence that RFID can be injected into polypropylene, allowing its use from the manufacturing process to intralogistics, logistics, until the end customers and the recycling process.”

Maintenance of original parts and machines in the aftermarket

Companies or service providers whose business model is based on providing periodic maintenance and changing of original parts can identify consumables with integrated RFID modules by using regular tablets or mobile devices during maintenance work. “There are already a number of mobile UHF readers available on the market that can be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Via the cloud or app, the mobile devices are connected with the manufacturer to always inform him about the performed maintenance operations.” In addition, if during machine maintenance climate data and maintenance history are correlated in the database for example, companies can draw conclusions about the machine’s condition from it, such as in which regions of the world higher humidity causes more frequent maintenance.

From plagiarism protection to the POS

“Integrating tags into products makes them identifiable throughout the entire product lifecycle. Plastic products of every kind that don’t have their own power source can also be connected to the cyber-physical world and thus become ‘smart plastics’. Starting from identification plates for industrial products, further possibilities regarding plagiarism protection and grey market control of consumer items and original parts open up. Moreover, it allows the creation of new POS services such as the registration of high-priced consumer electronics in case they get lost.”

Urban mining with RFID

Even beyond of the end-of-life, tagged products could make a decisive contribution in future, Schmoldt is convinced. “The smart and sustainable use of raw materials such as rare earths is a key task of the economy as a whole. High-tech products and short-lived consumer and capital goods in particular often consist of numerous raw materials for which extraction is more expensive than their recycling. In order to use the recyclable material dormant in the devices, the tag function can provide important information from the manufacturer on material composition. I expect RFID to be a key element in optimally implementing urban mining concepts.”

Last modified on Thursday, 07 January 2016 14:41
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