RFID vs. Barcodes: An Overview
What’s Barcode Technology and How Does it Work?
What is RFID and How Does it Work?
RFID vs. Barcodes: Main Differences
- Technology: RFID depends on radio frequency for tracking, while barcode scanners use images or optical lasers.
- Line of sight: Barcode scanners require a line of sight (in most cases), while RFID readers don’t. This can save you time because the tags can be read within boxes or from behind nearby stacked items.
- Read rate: Barcodes are read one at a time by the scanner, while all RFID tags in the read-zone will continuously send information to the reader. The simultaneous reading of RFID tags offers increased efficiency.
- Reusability: Barcode labels are typically applied directly to the box and will not be removed. RFID Tagging offers a variety of use-cases. RFID tags may be embedded within a barcoded label for single-use, other tags are more durable and can be reused multiple times.
- Interference sources: Barcode scanners primarily experience interference from obstructed, dirty, or torn barcodes. While RFID tags can still be read after being smudged or obstructed, RFID interference primarily comes from metals and liquids. On-metal tags or container-level tracking can help minimize RFID interference.
- Read/write capabilities: The data represented on a barcode is fixed. It can be used as a “license plate” tied to local dynamic data, but any disconnected reader will only get the static alpha-numeric content from the barcode. RFID tag data can be changed by re-encoding the tag with updated information.
- Tracking range: Barcode scanners are effective within a 50-foot range (large barcodes and long-distance readers). Meanwhile, RFID scanners can be effective up to 300 feet. Note that the most common RFID tags (UHF Passive) are optimized for a 15-20 foot read range.
- Human involvement: Barcode scanning technology typically requires human intervention, while RFID technology can be automatic, thus requiring little to no human intervention.
Barcodes vs. RFIDs: Pros and Cons
Barcode Tracking Pros and Cons
Barcode Scanning Pros
- Is typically less expensive than RFID implementations.
- Highly accurate on a wide range of materials.
- A more established technology.
- Faster and more reliable than hand-written, paper-based systems.
Barcode Scanning Cons
- It can be labor-intensive to scan each individual barcode.
- Requires a direct line of sight to work. Cannot read the contents of boxes or items stacked behind others without a visible label.
- The scanner must be within close range to work effectively.
- It does not have disk writing capabilities. So, you cannot add new information, such as expiry dates or a changed price to the barcode itself.
- Barcodes can be easily damaged, making it impossible to scan or track items.
RFID Technology Pros and Cons
- It’s quicker. You can read approximately 40 RFID tags in the time it takes to read one barcode.
- You can read RFID tags from a greater distance.
- A clear line of sight isn’t necessary with RFID. Can read contents within a box and obstructed tags.
- RFID supports read/write functions, meaning you can create new information or modify existing data, e.g., shipping information and product pricing.
- You can leverage encryption, password-protection, and “kill” features within RFID tags, making the technology more secure.
- RFIDs are 99% automatic. Very little human intervention is needed, if any.
- RFID tags don’t get damaged easily and they can be protected using plastic covers or by embedding them within a product.
- RFID technology is more expensive than barcode scanning.
- Interference from metals and liquids can compromise efficiency.
- If two or more RFID readers are in the same area, signal overlap can cause interference. This can be minimized/eliminated through professional implementations.
- Readers may unintentionally pick up nearby tags/items; read zone optimization through shielding and antenna power settings are critical.
Vertical Systems has extensive experience in implementing Barcoding and RFID systems. We’re here to help regardless of your desired tracking technology.
Greg is President of Vertical Systems. He joined Vertical Systems in 1998 and truly enjoys delivering innovative solutions for solving organizational challenges for his clients. He understands how technology can enable business growth and is committed to sharing proven methodologies and best practices with partners, customers, and our dedicated team. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn or contact him at Vertical Saystems.