RFID and Barcode Labeling: Which is Better for Me?

Before there was RFID (also known as radio frequency identification) there was barcode labeling, but today’s technology advancements allow RFID and barcode to exist side by side in various industries, allowing companies to decide which one works best for their needs. While these are different tools that have distinct applications, there are still instances where they can be used together. To help you determine the best course of action for your own initiative, below is a list of key features and differences of RFID and barcode options. RFID tags and bar codes each are read or scanned to transfer identifiable information into an automated data collection system. Bar codes come in two formats, linear or two-dimensional, also called DataMatrix codes. Linear codes store brief bits of fixed data through a combination of widths of spacings and bars of parallel lines. Linear codes are good for a manufacturer and product identification number such as seen in a Universal Product Code (UPC) in a grocery store. Two-dimensional bar codes are square in shape and can carry thousands of alpha/numeric characters including product identification number, manufacturer, lot number, product expiry date, product serial number, etc. Bar codes are scanned by laser scanners while two-dimensional codes are read by camera based imaging systems.

The Differences in Labeling Technology

The primary difference between these labeling technologies is that barcode is considered “line of sight.” This means barcodes require a scanner to be read, which can create challenges if the barcode is not printed correctly or if the label has been tampered with or damaged in some way. This is not an issue with RFID tags, however, because, as long as they are in range of a reader, they can be read. Barcodes are a viable option for products that do not need to be tracked utilizing various types of data. Essentially, the barcode is exactly the same on every carton or package of one particular product. Yet, an RFID label represents each carton and package with an individual identification so that it can be tracked and inventory can be managed more effectively. Barcode technology is ideal if you:

  • Use manual processes for reading labels;
  • Have products that do not require individual tracking;
  • Do not need to trigger events;
  • Do not require a high security environment or are concerned with the risk of counterfeiting;
  • Do not need a highly durable label; and
  • Have low expectations for read/write capability of the label.

Those looking for more in terms of security, read rate, event triggering and durability as well as those seeking to maximize their human capital would be better served with RFID technology.  As such, RFID tags have been proven to be more effective for certain industries, including retail, pharmaceutical, and healthcare, also improving certain processes like the supply chain for many types of companies.

In Summary

In reviewing RFID and barcode labeling technology to determine which one is right for you, here are the main points:

  • Barcode technology works for industries that can operate using manual process for reading labels and do not need to track individual packages or necessarily need a highly durable label.
  • RFID technology enables a higher read rate and protects items from theft or counterfeiting while reducing the amount of human capital that oversees tracking and inventory management.
  • Both technologies serve a productive and useful purpose for various industries, but it is important to select one that meets specific requirements for your business.
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