What Is the Difference Between RFID & Barcode?
Retailers and other businesses track inventory using either barcode or radio frequency identification technology. These different methods of inventory control method have distinct advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and privacy, for example. In addition, the different functions of barcode and RFID technologies make them appropriate to different environments.
Businesses that use barcodes either obtain printed barcodes or generate their own. The barcodes, which represent a series of letters and numbers and are printed on a label or sticker, adhere to the inventory item in a visible space. When the business needs to identify the inventory item, a worker uses an optical input device to scan the barcode; a connected computer decodes the barcode into its letters and numbers, then uses the decoded data to find information about that item in an electronic database. RFID technology works similar to barcodes, but encodes identifying information in a tiny radio transmitter rather than a sticker. When a specialized scanner picks up the radio’s signal, it decodes the data and passes the information to a computer for processing.
Business environments that benefit from bar codes and RFID technology, also known as tags, include warehouses, manufacturers, retailers and shipping companies. For businesses with significant amount of inventory to track, like shipping companies, the ability to remotely scan an RFID tag as an item passes on a conveyor belt increases efficiency enough to justify the cost of the tiny electronic tags. For businesses with lower margins or less inventory to manage, like small retailers, the ability to print barcodes on very inexpensive labels or paper makes this technology more suitable than the pricier RFID.
Both barcode and RFID inventorying methods increase efficiency by allowing workers to quickly and automatically identify inventory items. Because a computer reads and deciphers codes, the technologies also help reduce mistakes related to manual data entry. Barcode technology has the added benefits of very lost cost and decades of development; over time, several variations of barcode technology have helped improve barcode reliability. RFID technology benefits businesses who need to quickly identify large volumes of inventory, or who need to identify items that may not have a particular physical orientation. In addition, RFID scanners can typically pick up data from up to a few feet away, making the technology suitable for warehouse use and other environments where workers don't physically handle each item.
Both RFID and barcode technology rely on standardized data; variations in barcode design or RFID transmitter technology can prevent scanners from retrieving accurate data. On items that use barcodes, workers must orient each item so the barcode is visible to the optical scanners. In industrial environments that process large amounts of inventory data, special high-frequency RFID scanners can detect and read RFID tags from up to 20 feet away. Because specialized scanners can read RFID data from such a considerable distance, though, businesses that encode sensitive or private information in RFID tags may find barcodes more suited to their privacy needs.