Barcodes have been a standard in most industries for decades. But other technologies have challenged the efficiency and usefulness of barcodes. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is the main challenger. While both solutions are well suited for certain applications, there are many advantages of RFID over barcodes that are worth considering.
Barcodes vs. RFID - What’s the Difference?
Barcode and RFID technology are commonly used for inventory and asset tracking. These solutions are applied to a variety of industries such as transportation, retail, manufacturing, and consumer goods. Here is what you need to know about each solution.
What is Barcode?
Barcode is that code you see on boxes, cans, clothing tags, and even machinery with the long vertical lines and small numbers beneath it. Scanners and machines can read and interpret the code, using it for inventory and asset tracking purposes.
Barcodes can be 1-dimensional or 2-dimensional. 2-Dimensional barcodes are more common today and more complex. They can include additional data, such as quantity, price, images, etc.
Grand View Research reports that the global 2D barcode reader market was valued at $6.79 billion in 2020.
What is RFID?
RFID is short for Radio Frequency-Identification. This is a technology that uses radio waves to communicate data between the tag and a system.
An RFID tag is placed on a product, pallet, or asset. An RFID reader is used to “read” the information from the tag. Sometimes, an antenna is employed to boost the signal from the tag.
RFID systems can be passive or active. A passive tag is powered by the electromagnetic induction from the RFID reader. An active tag contains its own battery and will periodically transmit data to the system.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Barcodes
Barcodes are the most traditional system for inventory control. So, it must have some advantages. But, there are also some drawbacks to this technology.
Advantages of Barcodes
Affordable and simple to use
Barcodes are the least expensive option, and they are simple to use. But they aren’t hands-free like RFID tags, so there is still some effort involved.
Many items already have them
Many pieces of equipment and products already come with barcodes on them. If you want to track them, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Simple to create custom barcodes
If you need a custom barcode, it’s as simple as entering the data into a program and printing it out on a label. There are no computer chips involved.
Can scan with different types of hardware
Unlike RFID, you don’t need a special type of reader to scan barcodes. You do it with a barcode scanner but also with a tablet or smartphone.
Disadvantages of Barcodes
Identical items have the same code
If you are tracking inventory, it can be challenging to do with barcodes. Items of the same type will have identical barcodes, so there is no unique identifier.
Can only scan one item at a time
The biggest downside to barcodes is that you can only scan them one at a time, which is incredibly time-consuming.
Not durable or reusable
Unlike RFID tags, barcodes may not be weather resistant. And they are only available for one-time use.
Advantages and Disadvantages of RFID
While barcodes have become standard in many industries, it may be worthwhile to choose an alternative like RFID, considering its many advantages and few disadvantages.
Advantages of RFID
No line of sight needed
One of the biggest advantages of RFID tags is that you don’t need a line of sight to read them. With a barcode, the scanner must pass directly in front of the code. RFID tags, on the other hand, use radio frequencies, so they must simply be within the reader’s range.
Tags are read/write
Once a barcode is printed, it can’t be changed. But RFID tags are read/write, meaning you can change the modify the data on them as needed.
Tags are reusable and durable
Barcodes are often printed on paper labels, so they are susceptible to damage. But RFID tags can be printed on materials that are resistant to moisture, heat, and other extreme conditions. They are also reusable, which can reduce your costs.
Data is encrypted
Counterfeiting is a common issue with barcodes, and the data collected may not be reliable. With RFID, you get 100% reliability because the data is encrypted. It is also more difficult to duplicate one of these tags for the sake of wrongdoing.
Read rate is fast
RFID systems have the ability to read multiple tags at once. Compared to barcodes, which can only read one at a time, this can be an enormous time savings.
Can store a lot of data
RFID tags can store much more data than barcodes. You can store information about a product’s origin, expiration date, size, and other attributes.
Can be printed with a barcode
If you are already using a barcode system and want to transition to RFID, you can make the switch seamless by imprinting your new RFID tags with your existing barcode.
Disadvantages of RFID
More costly than barcodes
An RFID system is more costly than barcodes. It involves computer chips and readers that are more expensive than a traditional system. But the efficiencies you’ll realize with an RFID system are likely going to be worth the investment.
Only works for certain businesses
RFID can read hundreds of tags at the same time. But that doesn’t make it an ideal option for every industry. When there is a lot of metal in the scanning area, which can interfere with reading, or items are odd sizes, RFID may not work as expected.
Which Should You Choose - Barcodes or RFID?
When trying to choose between barcodes and RFID, it’s good to understand that the two have a few things in common. They are both able to track inventory and assets. And both require another device, such as a reader or scanner, to retrieve the data.
But, the differences are many. RFID can read from a greater distance and doesn’t require a direct line of sight. It can also be read quicker and store more data.
If you haven’t used any tracking system in the past, RFID is the ideal choice. If you are upgrading from barcode to RFID, the transition is simpler than you think. You can partner with the right vendor to get the proper RFID tags and readers. Then, you can begin using the technology for your inventory and asset tracking.
Both barcodes and RFID can simplify your warehouse operations and inventory management system. But it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each relative to your business goals before you invest in the technology and processes for implementation. Most businesses will discover that RFID is a superior option that delivers more efficiency and transparency throughout the process.