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When should I use barcode vs RFID?

One question we get asked is when should I use barcode vs RFID to label my inventory? The answer to this question will depend on your environment and what your expectations and budget are. For the majority of our customers using a barcode makes the most sense. Using a barcode is significantly less expensive compared to using RFID and for the most part provides the same outcome. Both barcode and RFID provide a way for your inventory software to give you the information you need. We can look at inventory control applications to see why barcode may be the best option.

Inventory Control Applications
One thing to remember is that barcodes will work on any surface from cardboard boxes, to containers with liquid or to be placed directly on metal. RFID does not work well placed on metal or on containers that are filled with liquid, unless you buy specialty RFID tags. The most important thing to remember is that you do not know what you do not know when it comes to RFID. This statement may sound bizarre, but when it comes to barcode vs RFID it is critical.

When I scan a barcode, I receive positive confirmation that I actually scanned the box. If I use RFID and I wave my reader around an area, it will pick up tags, you do not know which ones for sure were picked up. You have to spend more one your infrastructure to make sure that when I use an RFID reader, I will know that I scanned all of the items I am supposed to. If I use a barcode I will not have any of those restrictions.

Cost of barcode vs RFID
The cost of putting a barcode on an item is a lot less than placing an RFID tag on the same item. The cost of a barcode label is less than a penny where an RFID tag is at a minimum $0.15. Add in the cost of a portable reader and you start talking about a lot of money. You can find barcode terminals for under $100 where RFID readers will run around $3000.

Benefits of RFID
Yes, RFID is much more expensive than barcodes and takes longer to implement. However, there are serious advantages to RFID that you should consider. First and foremost, employee productivity is much much higher once RFID is successfully implemented. One of our customers operates a data center with thousands of servers and originally all of these assets were tracked using barcodes. Several employees had to spend weeks scanning the barcode of each server and if they missed one, they had to track it down. This took weeks to do.

Once they tagged each server with an RFID tag, all they had to do was walk by each server to scan the tag. Instead of spending weeks, they spend a few days and can now take a monthly inventory of their IT equipment. Before RFID, they were lucky to do it once a year.
Barcode vs RFID – Which is better
In the end, it depends on you application, your budget and how many items you have to track and in what environment. The higher your cost savings from productivity gains will be, the better off you are with RFID. Yet, barcodes themselves are a huge leap forward if you’re still using Excel or paper & pencil.

Visit our Asset Tracking Solutions page for more information.