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Barcodes vs. RFID: Which is the Better Data Collection & Inventory Tracking Technology?

With RFID technology growing in prominence, many companies are faced with the decision of whether to switch from barcode technology to RFID. Likewise, companies just getting started with data collection and inventory tracking want to adopt the right technology for their needs. Barcodes and RFID are two the two primary technologies that can be used for these purposes.

To gain some insight into these use cases and considerations for choosing a data collection and inventory tracking technology, we reached out to a panel of inventory managers and logistics professionals and asked them to answer this question:

“Which is better for data collection and inventory tracking: barcodes or RFID (and why)?”

Daniela ArangoDaniela Arango

@DoitWiser

Daniela Arango is a Community Manager at doitwiser.com. She graduated from UPB in Social Communications and Journalism and studied Strategic Coaching and Neuro- Linguistic Programing.

“Barcodes by far the easiest to use and more cost effective…”

In order to use RFID for inventory tracking, a company must make a large investment (millions in fact) in tag printers, readers, and software. Barcodes can easily be printed with ink on most materials, unlike RFID that has issues being read in some types of materials such as metal. Added to that, all the logistics team must receive extensive training, which results in more expenses. If your company works with other supply chain teams, they too must adapt to the infrastructural need of RFID. Of course, barcodes are more universally used. Even though it’s true that RFID tends to be more secure and that they are able to contain larger amounts of product data, barcodes are still easier to manage from for inventory tracking.


Ole K. NeckelmannOle K. Neckelmann

Ole Neckelmann is the Co-founder and Commercial Director at TriVision. TriVision delivers high-end user-friendly vision technology solutions for the production industry. Their solutions help customers gain a higher efficiency and quality in the production with reliable documentation and traceability.

“When considering which technology to employ for asset identification and/or tracking…”

Often both barcodes and RFID tags are considered. While RFID tags are often considered superior on a number of technical aspects, bar codes do hold a number of significant benefits that are important to consider, most notably:

  • They are less expensive, which especially for high volume situations are important.
  • They are simple to apply (can be printed).
  • It is a standard technology used across many situations and industries, simplifying setup and adaptation.

Quality vision technology allows for full automation of applying bar codes.


Rachel JiaRachel Jia

@Rachel_Jia

Rachel Jia is a Technical Marketing Manager at Dynamsoft.

“Barcodes remain one of the most common methods for inventory tracking…”

Compared to RFID, a barcode is cheaper and able to supply multiple data sources on one object. They are also easy to generate and distribute electronically for printing or display. RFID can be read over a covered object, at a longer distance, and at a higher concurrent reading pace. RFID can make for a good supplement in inventory tracking, but barcodes are likely more advantageous.


Eddie KaneEddie Kane

@Tadibrothers

Eddie Kane has worked at Tadibrothers for over 10 years. He does not only manage the sales team but is also in charge of making sure we have a fully stocked and organized warehouse.

“At TadiBrothers we prefer to use bar codes stickers because…”

It is more cost effective and takes up less space than the RFID. With hundreds of different backup cameras, it is much simpler to have our manufacturer put stickers that are flush with the box than use the more expensive RFID chips that are usually a little bigger.


Nicholas Daniel-RichardsNicholas Daniel-Richards

@weareshiphero

Nicholas Daniel-Richards is the co-founder of ShipHero, a platform that helps growing businesses manage inventory, eliminate fulfillment errors, and reduce shipping costs.

“In the US, it makes more sense for businesses to use bar codes…”

Because they are infinitely cheaper for the business owner and easier for shipping carriers to use. While shipping carriers in Europe use RFID, not all carriers in the U.S. use them. Additionally, RFID’s are much more expensive than bar codes. Each RFID chip is several cents, and the scanners themselves are hundreds of dollars. This doesn’t even account for the resources and training needed to program and track the RFIDs. If a business uses bar codes, they are only having to pay around $15 for each bar code scanner along with the cost of the paper and ink to print the bar codes. If the business is using a system like ShipHero, then training and tracking is already built into the system, which also helps to reduce cost.


Eric AllaisEric Allais

@PathGuide

Eric Allais, President & CEO of Washington-based PathGuide Technologies, has over 30 years of experience in marketing, product management, and sector analysis in the automated data collection industry, including warehouse management practices in wholesale distribution.

“Barcode labels are ubiquitous and cheap…”

Label printers and, more importantly, commodity RF scanners and computers are as plentiful (including cell phone apps) as they have ever been. A passive RFID tag may average 11 cents each vs. a barcode label costing less than a penny.

Trusting that an RFID interrogator captures the correct mixed inventory and quantities in a closed brown box at the receiving dock, in spite of cross checking this with a packing list, can be problematic versus scanning the items, and their respective quantities via barcoded item labels. As a bonus, the receiver, opening boxes, can easily inspect for damage item-by-item as shipments are received.


The Benefits of Barcodes for Data Collection and Inventory Tracking

Durability

Certain barcode labels, such as Metalphoto® asset tags, are designed to withstand harsh environments both indoors and outdoors. Camcode’s Rigid Metalphoto® Aluminum Asset Tags, for instance, are constructed of .020″ anodized aluminum face stock (with an optional thickness from .008″ to .063″), offering excellent resistance to chemicals, abrasion, and solvents. These durable asset tags withstand exposure to even the harshest environments, including extreme cold, heat, and UV. A high-performance permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive will bond permanently to high surface energy metals and plastics, as well as textured and contoured surfaces.

Accuracy

Barcodes can be affixed to a variety of materials without impacting accuracy. In fact, barcodes are just as accurate (or better) than RFID tags. And because barcodes are a universal technology, they can be read by any compatible barcode reader – meaning that vendors, suppliers, and other companies can all retrieve important data from the same barcodes with ease. In contrast, RFID tags can be affected by materials. Metal, for example, can deactivate the antenna on an RFID tag, preventing the tag from transmitting. Using an RFID tag on metal items requires the use of a special type of tag with an RFID block to prevent interference. Likewise, liquid can impact the reliability of an RFID tag’s signal. On the other hand, barcode accuracy and reliability are not affected by the material or contents of the items they’re affixed to.

Additionally, reader collision (when two RFID readers are attempting to read the same RFID tag at the same time and the signals overlap) and tag collision (when two RFID tags in the same area are responding to a reader at the same time) can occur, both of which can hinder data collection.

Cost

RFID tags must be assembled with a computerized chip inserted, adding to the overall cost of RFID tags. Barcodes are more affordable to implement. RFID tags also require different types of tags based on the materials being tracked, which also contributes to the cost. Generally, RFID tags cost anywhere from one dollar to $30 or more per tag, and RFID readers are considerably more expensive compared to barcode readers (as much as ten times more than barcode scanners).

RFID implementation can also be costly compared to barcode implementation, requiring test runs to ensure that RFID technology works with the application before a full rollout.

Barcodes offer a number of advantages for data collection and inventory tracking compared to RFID. While RFID is no longer new, the technology still falls short of barcodes when it comes to durability, reliability, and cost. These considerations make barcodes a more practical and functional choice for many companies.

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