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RFID or Barcode Asset Tracking System: Which is Better?

When it comes to asset tracking, using technology tools like a dedicated platform along with asset tags and labels is essential. Both barcoding systems and RFID technologies are used with asset tags and labels, but what’s the difference between the two types of systems? In this short guide, we look at how barcoding and RFID differ, their advantages and potential drawbacks, and how to choose between the two for your asset tracking system.

What is an RFID asset tracking system?

RFID stands for radio frequency identification. This technology works by encoding digital data in RFID tags or smart labels that feature a readable and writable chip. These smart labels also feature an antenna, and the RFID tags are read by scanners using radio signals. The data can then be read by an RFID reader, which relies on radio waves to capture the data.

The reader device reads the digital data from the tag or label and logs the data in a database for asset tracking. An RFID tag - usually an active RFID tag that has its own power source, unlike a passive RFID tag - can also be programmed to track environmental factors like temperature. Beyond asset tracking, RFID is used with passports and library books.

What’s a barcode asset tracking system?

Barcode systems feature black and white lines on barcode labels and a specially designed scanner to read the barcode label, decode the information into text, and send the information to a computer for use. Barcode systems are widely used in supermarkets and warehouses for asset tracking.

Smart Asset’s platform and tracking modules support both RFID and barcodes for asset tracking, and for RFID-based systems we offer support for IoT deployment.

Differences between RFID and barcodes for asset tracking

The following are some of the key differences between RFID and barcodes as asset tracking systems:

  • Tracking process - RFID can be used to automatically track assets, while barcodes typically require manual scanning.
  • Durability - Barcode tags tend to be less durable than RFID tags. Damaged, ripped, dirty, or visually-obstructed labels can pose problems for barcode scanning.
  • Speed, proximity and line of sight - RFID readers use radio signals, meaning they can scan more than 100 tags simultaneously and don’t need line of sight or direct visibility to scan tags. Barcode readers are optical scanners, so they need line of sight or a completely unobstructed view for scanning the label. Barcode labels also need to be close to the reader, and the scanner can only read one label at a time.
  • Security - Barcodes could be easily forged or reproduced, while RFID tags can come with data-encryption features, password protection, and other security features.
  • Memory - While barcodes (including 2D barcodes like QR codes) tend to contain limited information and are read-only, some RFID tags have memory features. This means RFID tags can be reprogrammed and used to store detailed maintenance information, sensor data, and other valuable information.
  • Cost - Barcode systems are usually less expensive than RFID systems, though the cost of RFID has lowered over the years.

It’s important to note, though, that both barcodes and RFID systems are superior to other systems that are reliant on serial numbers and spreadsheets as they allow you to scan the code or data rather than requiring manual capturing and inputting of data.

Interested in deploying an RFID-based asset tracking system supported by a best-in-class asset management platform? Contact Smart Asset to talk about how we can assist you.

How to choose between RFID and barcode

When choosing between the two for asset tracking, consider the differences, your needs, budget, and their advantages and potential drawbacks.

With an RFID system, bear in mind that metals and liquids can impact the signal. So, depending on your operating environment, RFID could be less accurate and reliable than barcode scanners. However, RFID systems can handle exposure to the sun and rain that could damage barcode labels. RFID is particularly useful in environments like hospitals where it’s common for high-value mobile items to be in use. This is because the technology allows you to easily scan multiple items and hard-to-reach assets, potentially reducing your inventory time from days to hours.

RFID is also useful if your staff need to be able to walk through an area and quickly capture RFID information on all the assets within range. RFID systems also tend to be more durable, secure, and efficient than barcoding systems. When integrated with wireless LAN, an RFID asset tracking system can identify and locate assets remotely in near real time, and even set up alerts when assets are moved out of given zones.

A barcode system might be more suitable if you need to avoid scanning all tags within a given range. For example, in a warehouse environment, you might need a reader that can scan one tag at a time. The alternative to using a barcode system in this context is to use RFID blocks to avoid scanning the same item multiple times.

RFID or barcode? Choose the right system for you

While RFID offers incredible automation, speed, and flexibility, it hasn’t completely replaced barcodes. Barcode systems might require more manual input and offer far fewer features, but they’re inexpensive and highly suitable in environments like grocery stores where the readers and tags won’t be affected by metals and liquids. Understanding how these two options work and reviewing their advantages and drawbacks against your own requirements can help you make the right choice.

Smart Asset offers a best-in-class asset management solution complete with full-featured asset tracking module, and our platform is fully compatible with both barcode-based and RFID-tag asset tracking.

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