In the retail, logistics, transportation and manufacturing sectors, RFID and barcode-based systems are most frequently deployed to track a multitude of equipment and assets and manage inventory.
By placing tiny RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) transponders or barcode tags on assets/equipment, organizations can track the movement, prevent losses and thefts, monitor the processes, and locate critical assets/equipment seamlessly and efficiently.
As RFID and barcode technology both address similar industry-specific problems, we often get confused over the question of choosing RFID over barcode asset tracking.
Before choosing one over another, we need to draw parallels and differences between RFID and barcode asset tracking or inventory tracking systems.
What distinguishes RFID equipment tracking systems from its barcode predecessor?
RFID equipment tracking systems
RFID asset tracking or inventory tracking systems are more secure and accurate than barcode-based tracking systems. With RFID-based asset tracking system, you can:
- Automate the equipment maintenance schedule and tracking, which leads to reduced labor cost and higher productivity.
- Read multiple RFID tags at once.
- Identify each asset uniquely which eliminates chances of scanning an asset multiple times.
- Deploy RFID tagging and asset tracking in extreme environment (temperatures and humidity) conditions.
- Track an asset without standing in line of the sight.
- Scan an RFID labelled asset from a distance – up to 15 meters.
- Store and encrypt large information in tags like product serial number, location, maintenance schedule, expiry date, use history, etc.
- Read, write and rewrite information in RFID labels. It makes RFID tags reusable.
A barcode reader emits a beam of red light to illuminate the black and white bar coded tag. A sensor detects reflected light from the tag surface and decodes into text by embedded decoder.
A barcode reader has a shorter scanning range. In order to scan the encoded information, a labelled equipment/asset needs to be in straight line of sight with the reader.
Barcodes are printed on adhesive paper and they are susceptible to wear and tear. The barcode reader can’t read a damaged barcode.
Barcode-based asset tracking systems are labor intensive. They can:
- Only scan one tag at a time
- Only scan an asset if it is in line of sight with barcode reader
- Only store limited data in barcodes
- Only read from the barcodes (can’t rewrite information)
Things to consider when choosing between RFID or barcode asset tracking system?
Consider following factors before choosing an RFID/barcode asset tracking or inventory tracking system:
- Budget you want to allocate for the asset tracking system? Choose barcode tracking if you are looking for a low-cost alternative.
- How secure is the tagging/labeling information?
- How and where (operating environment) the asset or inventory tracking will take place?
- What asset/equipment do you want to track?
Advantages of barcode asset tracking over RFID equipment tracking
Barcode asset tracking offers some advantages over its RFID counterpart, even though it has many limitations.
Barcode tracking edges out RFID in the following aspects:
- Barcode asset tracking is economical
- Barcode labels are not susceptible to electro-magnetic interference
- Barcode scanning is not vulnerable to disruption from liquids or metals
- Barcode asset tracking systems are easy to use and easy to deploy
- Though barcode reader scans one asset at a time (a drawback in most cases), it can serve as an advantage where a user wants to scan tags from a specific container or location.
Advantages of RFID equipment tracking over its barcode equivalent
RFID has become the go-to tech in asset tracking or inventory tracking because of the following advantages it offers:
- Asset/equipment tracking or inventory tracking automation
- Read multiple RFID labels at once
- Do away with scanning a single asset multiple times
- Deploy the asset tracking system in hostile environment conditions
- Scanners don’t need to be in direct line of sight
- Scan from a longer distance. Active UHF RFID tags can be scanned from a distance of over 100 feet
- Many RFID tags are read-writable
- High asset or inventory tracking accuracy
- RFID tags are durable