RFID vs Barcode: Why RFID is better for Asset Tracking

RFID and Barcode are two of the most popular auto-ID technologies used in asset tracking. However, each has advantages and disadvantages of their own. This blog post will help you learn about these systems, their similarities, RFID vs Barcode -key differences, advantages of RFID over Barcode systems and why RFID is better for Asset Tracking.

What is Barcode

Barcode enables data to be represented visually and is readable by machines. Vertical lines of varied width, spacing, and diameter were used to represent data in barcodes. These barcodes can be read by specialized optical scanners known as barcode scanners or barcode readers. There are different types of barcode scanners. These barcodes are usually referred to as linear or one-dimensional (1D). Later, two-dimensional (2D) variations were created utilizing hexagons, dots, rectangles, and other patterns. These are known as 2D barcodes or matrix codes even though they do not actually use bars.

What is QR Code

QR code or quick response code is also a type of barcode. Like barcodes, QR codes contain machine-readable data about the item it is attached to. However, QR code differs from a standard barcode where QR code is two-dimensional and contains data both in the horizontal and vertical directions.

QR codes can hold a lot of information and everyone can generate their own QR code and stick it to their items or products. The advent of smartphones has increased the popularity and usage of QR codes. QR codes can be easily scanned using QR code scanner apps installed on smartphones to access a website, install an app, for payment and so on.

How do Barcodes work

Today, barcodes are almost on everything, be it books or any item you buy. These barcodes are often overlooked in our lives but they contain very vital information that plays a crucial role in various processes in manufacturing, logistics and so on.   

Barcode scanners are used to read barcodes. The scanner emits a laser that picks up the pattern. Some light is absorbed and some is reflected as a specific frequency of laser sweeps across the barcode. Just as computers represent numbers using binary code in the form of digital 1s and 0s, barcodes also work something like this. The black areas in the barcode don’t reflect light and they are perceived as 1s and the white part is recognized by light and thus are perceived as 0s.

Most of the barcodes display a twelve-digit number and here are what the numbers represent.The first number represents the product type usually denoted by 0, 1, 6, 7 or 8. The next five numbers represent the manufacturer’s code. It is a unique code that identifies the manufacturer or distributor of the product. The next 5 numbers present the product code that is unique to the individual product. The final number is a computer check digit that makes sure that the barcode is correctly composed. The barcode system detects the amount of light, which is translated into a set of digits or data. This data can be used to retrieve information  from a database.

What is RFID and How it Works

RFID (Radio Frequency-Identification) is used to track movement of critical assets in manufacturing facilities, laboratories, clean rooms, warehouses, datacenters and yards. RFID tracking helps personnel to instantly and effortlessly locate assets, perform inventory audits, maintain compliance regulations, manage and utilize assets efficiently.

RFID tags communicate with RFID antennas and readers that transmit electromagnetic radio waves to the RFID tags that are in the vicinity. Energy is captured from the radio waves by the RFID tag’s antenna and it generates a current moving towards the RFID chip at the center of the tag powering the integrated circuit (IC). The integrated circuit powers on, controls the energy with information from its memory banks and sends a signal back out through the RFID tag’s antenna.

Similarities between RFID and Barcode

Systems such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and barcodes are used to pack a lot of data into a little space. Speed, labor savings and cost-effectiveness are some of the key advantages of these systems.

Both barcode and RFID systems are used in inventory tracking – collect and store data, and retrieve information using fixed or handheld readers or scanners.

RFID vs Barcode

Barcodes are simple to use but they can be easily copied or faked. RFID is a bit more complex and they are far more secure. However, there are some key benefits (discussed below) that make RFID the preferred choice for asset tracking.

RFID vs Barcode

Line-of-Sight Requirement

Everyone knows that a barcode or QR code has to be completely visible in order to read it accurately with a scanner. Not only does one need line-of-sight, but also ensure that it must be ‘clean’ with no dirt, smudges or scratches on it. This is more so the case, when they are exposed to the outdoors, where the ink can be potentially damaged. This is the reason why barcodes and QR codes are not suitable for use in the Oil and Gas industry and in Construction. 

With RFID, one does not need to have to ‘see’ the tag to be able to read it. As long as they are within the read range of the RFID tag, it will get picked up. Read range of an RFID tag is dependent on several factors including the size of the tag (length of the antenna on the tag), surface material on which the tag is placed, etc.

Multiple Tag Reads at the Same Time

This is a big plus for RFID. In the case of barcode and QR code scans, only one tag can be read at a time. There is no exception to this. But, given that an RFID scanner can issue more than 50 reads a second, multiple RF tags can be ‘activated’ at the same time and will transmit back to the scanner at the same time. So, it could be possible to read dozens of RF tags per minute. This characteristic alone helps reduce RFID inventory audit times by over 85% as compared to barcode/QR codes.

Ability to Write to Tags

RFID tags come with writeable memory where data can be stored about the tag/asset. Further, the data can be encrypted for extra security. There is no such capability for barcodes.

Read from a Distance

Barcodes and QR codes typically need to be scanned within a few inches of the tag. RFID tags, on the other hand, can be read from a distance, anywhere from a few inches to dozens of feet. This characteristic allows RFID tags to be read in real-time with fixed RFID readers around doorways and other portals, automatically detecting whether RFID tagged assets are moving in or out of rooms, for example.

Conclusion

Each asset tracking system has advantages and disadvantages of its own. Thus, it is up to you to choose the best asset tracking technology that suits your business and your work environment. Barcode systems are deployed in small grocery shops for inventory tracking but it would be very expensive for small stores to implement RFID technology.

But, industries such as laboratory, manufacturing, IT, Oil and Gas require a quick, less labor-intensive, more robust and secure asset tracking solution that has more capabilities than barcode systems. So, RFID becomes the preferred choice.

Several AssetPulse customers had formerly used barcodes and QR codes as the Auto-ID technology to automate their scanning activities. Having realized the inefficiencies of this technology, they reached out to AssetPulse for RFID solutions to reap a multi-fold improvement in efficiency and productivity. This efficiency increase has been perceived across all industries and domains including:

  • Lab Equipment / Specimen Tracking
  • Manufacturing Operations
  • Work Order Tracking
  • WIP (Work-In-Progress) Tracking
  • IT Asset Tracking
  • Oil & Gas

RFID Tracking systems provide comprehensive solutions for end-to-end asset tracking in various industries and are deployed more frequently in numerous industries recently. Therefore, the price continues to decline, and the RFID-barcode pricing gap is closing. Having said that, RFID is a better asset tracking system with more capabilities that helps businesses to optimize and automate asset tracking, inventory and audit processes and improve asset utilization. RFID tracking is a secure and yet a cost-effective way for enterprises to streamline business processes, improve productivity and efficiency.

AssetPulse is one of the best RFID solution providers in USA providing best-in-class IoT based asset tracking solutions to numerous government and private organizations including several high-tech campuses, biotech hubs, manufacturing companies in the United States and across the world.

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