What is the Difference Between Barcode and RFID?
Barcodes have long been a staple in data capture, but RFID has seen steady growth over the past few years and is quickly becoming the go-to solution for automatic identification. So, what is the difference between the two? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of these revolutionary technologies?
What is a barcode?
Bar codes are used to store information and identify things, especially in warehouses or other points in the supply chain. Barcodes can be used not only to store information about items but also to help manage and track them. Like RFID, barcodes can be used for inventory management and asset management.
Barcodes work by using barcode scanners and barcodes. Different barcodes have different formats, such as a QR code, but a "typical" barcode has a series of white or black lines for scanners to read. This particular barcode is the Universal Product Code, or UPC, commonly used in grocery stores to allow items to be quickly scanned and added to customers' receipts.
This type of barcode is called a linear barcode because barcodes can only be read along one axis (horizontal), but there are other types of barcodes, called 2D barcodes, that can be read both horizontally and vertically. These barcodes are capable of storing more data about the item but require a scanner that is specialized to read them to be read.
What is radio frequency identification?
RFID, or radio frequency identification, is a technology that is also used to store data about tagged items, just like barcodes. RFID can be used for supply chain management like barcodes, but it can also be used for many other things like contactless NFC payments. RFID has a very high read range, which means that when it is used in supply chain applications, information about many tagged items can be viewed quickly and easily over a large area.
RFID works by using RFID readers and RFID tags with RFID chips, antennas, and substrates. The RFID chip is where the data is stored in the tag, and its size can vary from tag to tag. Some RFID chips can hold up to 2KB of data, which is much more than barcodes. The antenna makes up the bulk of the tag and is used to receive and transmit signals from the reader. The antenna allows the tag to communicate, and if the tag is an active tag, it will continuously transmit the signal. Finally, the substrate is the material from which the label is made. One advantage of RFID tags is that they can be created in many forms, which means they are versatile and adaptable to their conditions, so the substrate can be anything from paper tags to hard plastic key fobs.
So what exactly is the difference?
Although both types of tags essentially do the same thing (store and transmit data), they do it very differently. Barcodes can be scanned by visually reading the bar on the barcode using a barcode scanner, which is then decoded and presented to the user in a readable format. However, RFID does not require line-of-sight between the tag and the reader, instead, the reader reads the tag by using the signal sent by the reader to create a response from the tag (a response that holds the tag data). The reader then detects the response and decodes it into a format readable by the reader.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of barcodes and RFID?
Both technologies have many advantages and disadvantages. Below we've listed some of the key advantages and disadvantages of each technology that you should consider when implementing one of these solutions into your business.
Cheaper to buy and implement
Barcodes can be read no matter what the barcode is. RFID signals can be blocked by materials such as liquids and metals.
Widely used and understood.
Easily damaged and blurred to the point where it can no longer be read.
Each barcode has to be scanned individually, which makes their scanning more time-consuming.
Each barcode must be scanned with direct vision, which also makes their scanning more time-consuming.
Cannot be used for many applications where RFID can be used, such as animal tracking.
Compared to RFID tags, much fewer data can be saved.
Much shorter read range due to the need for line of sight.
No serialization, so items cannot be uniquely identified.
Can hold much more data than barcodes - usually between 64 and 1000 digits, but can be more.
The read range is much larger than barcodes. Passive RFID tags typically have a read range between 1 and 25 meters, but active tags can go much further, typically between 30 and 300 meters!
Multiple RFID tags can be scanned at once, reducing scanning time.
Line-of-sight is not required to scan RFID tags.
Tags can be designed to be highly durable, making them suitable for use in harsh conditions.
Can be used in a variety of applications, as the substrate of the label can be designed in a variety of forms, enabling applications that cannot be achieved with barcodes.
Read and write functions (for active RFID tags).
Can be used to uniquely identify each marked item, allowing more information about the marked item to be saved, such as the status of the item.
Certain items cannot be read after being marked, such as liquids and metals.
Much more expensive to implement and slightly more expensive to use.
Which is right for me?
Ultimately, the option that's right for you will depend heavily on what you need to mark up. RFID is a better option for tracking high-value assets, while barcodes are suitable for tracking low-value assets and products.
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