Barcode vs. RFID: What To Consider Before You Choose

Barcode labels and RFID labels are choices enterprises must make to improve efficiency and reduce overhead. Which are most cost-effective and reliable in the long run are decisions not to be taken lightly.

1. RFID Labels Offer Accessability

To the untrained eye, both barcode and RFID technologies look the same since both incorporate fixed or mobile readers that can scan item labels more rapidly and reliably than a human tabulator. However, they are quite different. Capable of being scanned at longer distances, an RFID label reads without direct line of sight as long as the label is in the reader’s radio frequency range, whereas the barcode label must be held close and in a particular position since it depends on light reflection to be scanned.

Barcode labels are efficiently read when grocery items are passed through readers at checkout, but would be a slower read on an amusement park ticket wristband at entrance gates because of varying wrist positions. RFID reads would be faster at letting crowds into events and can be read even if covered by clothing, contrary to items with barcode labels obscured in some way.

Furthermore, hundreds of items, such as RFID wristbands, can be scanned simultaneously leaving the potential for individuals at events to be identified in case of emergency or for a particular retail item to be pulled from inventory at customer request.
RFID labels enable more accessible quick reads than barcodes.

2. RFID Tags Provide Precise Inventory Counts

Again to the untrained, both barcode and RFID systems inventory and track items. However, an RFID label can be programmed to contain far more detailed information than a barcode allowing for more precision in both inventory and tracking.

A barcode label tallies items in inventory according to product type, who makes it, what each one costs, and how many are stocked, but employees manually check for item specifics such as in-house location, color, price, and purchase date of individual items: information not standard to type.

Capable of loading up to 2,000 proprietary bytes of information upon manufacture, once encoded, an RFID label automatically tallies individual items in inventory too, but supplies specifics like those in the list above for each individual item. The RFID tag follows the item from source to final destination since a code for each individual item was electronically created and linked to a database.

A barcode label would tell a grocer how many gallons of milk A was in the cooler and how many gallons of milk B, but the RFID label could tell the grocer when each gallon of milk came from which distributor and from which farm the dairy gathered the milk and, ultimately, from which cow was milked. Such milk analysis would be difficult and labor intensive without RFID labeling.

RFID labels carry more information than barcodes enabling exact identification of individual items.

3. RFID's unique codes make information secure

Because barcode labels are primarily created with standard, public codes, consumers can, with a little training or research, identify the item to which a barcode is attached and replicate it.

A grocer, therefore, could sell a gallon of watered down milk for a gallon of whole through simple replication of readily available codes.

A vintner, on the other hand, would find it infinitely more difficult to replicate an RFID label for a fake expensive wine since the label can (and should be) coded secretly and uniquely.

RFID labels have electronically generated unique codes; barcodes use standard protocols.

4. RFID Tags Have Flexibility Of Being Rewritten

Barcode labels purvey permanent information which identifies an item. One type of RFID label can be read and rewritten so information can be changed to more specifically identify an item. This reusable feature allows managers to customize a label as the item changes over time because of age, customer demand, or usage. 
Depending on design, RFID labels can be changed and still remain secure. Barcode information is permanent.

5. Encasement Gives RFID Tags Durability Barcode Tags Won't Have

Dependent only upon ink composites, barcode labels are inexpensive to design and print; they require no encasement material.

Because RFID labels require internal circuits (chips) and antennae, they are more expensive to produce.

These innards have to be protected, usually by polymer encasements that incorporate design and print.

This protection can be a benefit - and cost effective - to a label consumer if barcode labels are consistently destroyed in the supply chain making them unreadable by scanners or if the label needs to withstand long term wear or harsh conditions. 

RFID polymer encasements withstand hard wear; barcodes are more ephemeral even when laminated.

6. Both Barcode Tags And RFID Tags Can Eliminate Human Error

When items are accounted for by hand, error is significantly higher than when either technology is used. If properly printed, barcode labels and RFID labels both have the ability to eliminate human error in inventory and tracking.

Both barcode and RFID labels will contribute to enterprise efficiency. Using both together leads to redundancy in a system in case of technology failure.

Purchase of either barcode or RFID systems depends on the depth of data required by an enterprise and how the system is to be used in the field.

The label consumer has to make a purchasing decision based on these needs and financial constraints. Label convertors involved in the production of both barcode and RFID labels can provide unbiased counsel when such decisions are to be made.

Metalcraft, a converter with longstanding credentials in the field, can help with that decision.

 

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