The question of RFID vs. barcode has often been described in terms of the past vs. the future, with partisans of both technologies keen to prove that theirs is the best option.
Generally speaking, there is a lot of overlap between RFID and barcode, as they both try to solve similar problems in asset-heavy industries. As much as we often talk about one of these technologies as the only possible solution, it is quite common to see both in use at the same time.
But what are the main differences and similarities? What makes RFID and barcode different? Let’s look at their main features.
Both barcode and RFID help companies track their assets and store item information. This information is commonly printed on tags and can be stored, accessed, and shared in an online platform.
Barcode readers work by using a beam of light to read the black and white pattern printed on the adhesive tag. On the other hand, RFID (or Radio-Frequency Identification) leverages radio waves to transmit data from RFID chips to the readers. Barcode encoding (e.g. GTIN) and RFID encoding (EPC) both follow the same standard by GS1, so the transition is smooth and compatibility is guaranteed.
From this short summary, it seems clear that there are occasions in which RFID is preferable, and others were barcode still seems like the easiest option. Most grocery stores and shops dealing with perishable goods tend to use barcode, while industries with more high-value items, bigger inventories, and the need for real-time information, tend to prefer RFID.
Beyond any doubt, there is a huge performance gap between barcode and RFID when it comes to speed. This is a direct consequence of individual scanning (barcode) vs. scanning of multiple items at once (RFID).
The video below highlights how much faster inventory management can be done with RFID.
Accuracy is harder to assess, because barcode requires manual reading, and is, therefore, more subject to human error. However, RFID might not be as accurate if the tags are placed on metals and liquids. In most circumstances, RFID can guarantee up to 100% inventory accuracy. A study comparing the use of RFID and barcode in the same environment confirmed that RFID guarantees more consistent results. (1)
When you use RFID, you can automate inventory management and item tracking. As RFID tags can store and share more information than barcode tags, an RFID-powered system allows you to leverage the data better. Better access to higher quality data allows you to use automation to optimize not only inventory management, but also your sales cycle.
However, there are still environments where using only barcode or a mix of barcode and RFID is preferable. In fact, barcode still dominates many industries. When we ask if barcode is better than RFID or the other way round, we are often asking the wrong question.
Whether RFID or barcode is better for your needs should be determined by looking at the specific circumstances of your business.
If you are working with barcode but are still open to the possibility of investing in RFID in the future, how do you choose the right reader?
We have addressed exactly this problem by creating a future-proof solution.
Nordic ID HH83 is a modular reader than can be used both for barcode and UHF RFID reading.
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(1) White, Gareth & Gardiner, Georgina & Prabhakar, Guru & Abd Razak, Azley. (2007). A Comparison of Barcoding and RFID Technologies in Practice. Journal of Information, Information Technology and Organizations. 2. 10.28945/142.