Smart card flexibility

With so many smart card options on the market, manufacturers are constantly exploring new card design and composition in order to give customers a broad array of choices that meet both practical needs and design desires.

Smart cards, also known as chip cards or integrated circuit cards (ICC), are the size of a credit card and have embedded data processing chips. Smart cards are utilized for access, ID, financial services and a variety of other uses.  

When creating a successful smart card, form and function must go hand in hand. “The aesthetics of a smart card are very important, especially to our government and bank clients,” says Michelle Lehouck, smart card manager of product development, at CPI Card Group. CPI is a plastic card manufacturer catering to both secure and non-secure clients.

“For secure clients, innovative card designs and artwork double as security features, with options like security printing, texturing and cutouts being used to enhance security and prevent counterfeiting,” Lehouck says.  

Different shapes
Jack Bubany is director of product marketing of credentials for HID Global, a worldwide manufacturer, designer and distributor of smart cards to government, corporate, and institutional markets. He points out that not all smart “cards” are actually in card form, but that the technology can be transferred into several forms depending on a client’s need for convenience, safety and security.  

“For example, we also have fobs and tags,” Bubany says. Fobs are small, plastic teardrop-shaped transponders that fit onto a key ring, while tags have an adhesive shell with the electronics inside. “The fob can be used as a supplement in an environment where, for example, it would be a safety issue to have a lanyard hanging around your neck with an ID or access card, such as on an assembly line.” A tag can be adhered to a phone or onto a blank card to provide an access or ID mechanism for companies that need time to move their card population over to smart cards, he explains.  

But ensuring that a particular smart card will meet a client’s demands also goes beneath the surface – literally – to the card’s essential components. “At the end of the day, our designs have to be driven by the demands of our customers,” says Bubany. “We have to design a card that is going to live up to its purpose. For example, in an environment where a smart card might get a lot of physical abuse, say as a university ID card, that client might want to opt for a composite card, composed of PVC and polycarbonate, which is sturdier and longer lasting than a traditional PVC card.”  

Endurance test
At its Denver card research laboratory, HID Global conducts experiments to determine the durability of their cards, putting them in a variety of stressful situations to see what each can endure.  

“What we continue to work toward is a card that has 10 years of life,” Bubany says. “That’s what our customers are looking for.”  

While many companies are experimenting with new components, PVC cards remain the most common in the industry for a number of reasons, he says. “PVC is so prevalent because it’s a low cost plastic. And, because you see it all around you, printers were developed that transfer or place an image onto that PVC surface. PVC takes ink extremely well and it holds that image.”  

Bubany foresees PVC remaining until a new material that holds graphic images just as well can be found. But card makers are branching out and away from the traditional. At CPI, they’ve even introduced an environmentally friendly “wood card.” And the biodegradable Bio PVC card continues to be tested in a Belgium lab.    

“Bio PVC is coming on strong,” says Michelle Lehouck. CPI’s bioPVC® will allow the biodegradation of all CPI manufactured PVC plastics. “The green push in the cards industry is quite new, but it continues to gain a lot of momentum.”  

Clear and clean
Translucent cards are also a big trend right now, especially within the credit card industry. “Because you can see the chip and the antenna (through the card), the issuer has now commanded the attention of the card holder; not only does it look intriguing but your customer is now thinking about the technology,” Lehouck says.

But a translucent smart card creates further design challenges. “Our chip manufacturers are trying to make the chip more aesthetically pleasing. After all, if it’s visible, it has to look clean,” she says. “But, overall, it’s just a more exciting way to package a financial card to gain top-of-wallet position.”  

Bubany predicts the smart card of the future will be largely influenced by the developments in the financial sector. “The credit card industry is really driving a lot of the new form factors right now,” he says. “You’ll definitely see a mirroring of what that industry is doing in terms of access control cards as we move forward.”

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