According to sources, the memory activity has been passed on to Xerox’ PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), a long-time partner who back in 2015, was licensing Thinfilm’s proprietary technology and demonstrated its first Xerox Printed Memory product two years ago at printing equipment exhibition Drupa.
Manufactured via a printing process, the flexible non-volatile memory labels could store up to 36 bits of information (68 billion distinct data combinations), enough to record lot codes and serial numbers to expiration dates and geographic IDs. At the time of demonstration, Xerox was hinting such printable memory labels would address the needs of brand protection across a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals, government, and other verticals. Thinfilm had completed the technology transfer to Xerox in the first quarter of 2016.
At LOPEC (Large Organic Printed Electronics Conference) held in Munich this week, ThinFilm’s VP of Sales for EMEA Volkmar Foelsch wouldn’t comment on what had happened to the company’s memory business (no memory-related products or marketing material visible at the booth), only to highlight that NFC had gained so much traction that it deserved all of the company’s focus. Last October, Thinfilm who now presents itself as a provider of NFC mobile marketing and smart product solutions has raised more than $110 million to expand its CAPEX.
The startup anticipates it will reach cash break-even point early Q2 2019. Earlier in 2017, the company had launched its CNECT software portal, a multi-tenant cloud-based platform that integrates with its NFC SpeedTap and OpenSense tags. The turnkey solution is now a key differentiator for ThinFilm’s NFC labels as it provides consumer brands with a secure way to store, manage and track the tags while performing data analytics on customer engagement and behaviour, with access to real-time NFC tapping activity. Developer tools let companies create digital identities for their products and establish direct links to their consumers through the simple tap of a smartphone, turning every single item into a media channel.
Discussing the NFC traction, Foelsch was showcasing application examples of Barbadillo spirit bottles sporting the smart packaging. Running data analytics on a campaign of 150,000 NFC-labelled bottles, the Spanish wine maker noted a surge in online traffic, 55% of its total online traffic coming from consumer interaction with the NFC tags. Out of that specific traffic, the company identified a 37% conversion rate, that is, a purchase online, noted Foelsch.
Another customer example given by Foelsch was that of global nutrition and weight management company Herbalife who manages to get insight on its customers’ behaviour and meal times, establishing various market segments based on NFC tapping data (mostly leveraged from the user’s smartphone).
But is printing NFC tags cost-competitive with already mass-produced and low-cost silicon-based NFC tags? We asked. For now, it’s not, admitted Foelsch, but the added value ThinFilm brings with the CNECT largely makes up for it, he says. So, admittedly, while other cloud-based asset management or logistic tools could certainly offer that level of marketing insight if combined with lower-cost NFC tags, ThinFilm claims such a level of integration is not available elsewhere. Another argument in favour of printed NFC tags is their thinness and flexibility, making them easier to integrate into packaging and even on paper. ThinFilm now boasts it has two operational factories (one recently setup in San Jose and one in Shanghai) with a capacity of 10 billion ICs per year on roll-based manufacturing lines. On ThinFilm’s roadmap is further scaling of the NFC chips, and doubling the on-chip memory from 128 to 256 bits
Now what exactly will happen to printed memory, maybe Xerox will tell.