Barcodes are being used since the 70s and have created a niche in commercial applications. Being a 90s kid I’ve grown up watching barcodes on every biscuit and chips packet. Almost every Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) comes with a barcode, even today.
With advent of new technological advancement in AIDC, the need for barcodes is changing significantly. When vetted against QR codes, RFID and BLE etc., traditional barcodes don’t fare well but that doesn’t mean that barcode usages will stop abruptly. It just means that over time, people will try to implement these new technologies as well, sometimes in combination with barcodes even.
Just to be clear, QR (Quick Response) codes are also barcodes but two dimensional, meaning it can hold more data, horizontally and vertically, than a traditional barcode.
RFID is another AIDC tool that can be used for all the purposes, same as barcodes and even more. RFID has some obvious advantages over barcodes as it uses radio frequency signals to communicate and does not need a clear line of sight to perform the identification and data capture functions.
What are Barcodes?
Traditional barcode is a 1-dimensional image, with vertical columns. It is capable of storing a small amount of data, like a numerical id, hence allowing it to be used for labeling grocery articles, clothes, vegetables, assets etc.
Over the years, bar codes have changed as well. Now we have QR codes, short for quick response codes, that can be customized with images, texts, URL, PDF, etc. it allows for more data to be stored and it can be read with 360 degree alignment with great accuracy.
What is RFID?
RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is a wireless technology that employs a RFID tag, an antenna and a RFID reader to perform its tasks. When in use, the RFID tag sends the encoded data to the RFID reader through an antenna and the RFID reader receives and reads the data for the end user. All of this takes place using radio frequency signals.
Advantages of RFID over Barcodes:
It is not fair to compare these two technologies as they have completely different working mechanism. Though barcode and RFID, both were invented very long ago, RFID has matured quite a lot and has become a versatile tool for tracking and identification purposes. The global RFID market is expected to grow significantly at a CAGR of 9.79% to 23.47B USD in 2030, from 10.12B USD in 2021 as per Market Research.
A huge chunk of this growth is attributed to UHF passive RFID system and to the retail market.
Here are some of the major advantages of RFID over Barcodes:
1. Advance scanning:
RFID has significant advantage when it comes to scanning capacity. Barcodes are scanned using optical scanners which need to be placed very close to barcode tags while scanning but that is not the case with RFID. RFID doesn’t require a clear line of sight and can scan RFID tags up to 15m (passive RFID) and up to 100m (active RFID), without a line of sight.
2. High read-rate
RFID has high read rate as some RFID readers can read hundreds of RFID tags per second while barcode scanner can scan one barcode at a time.
RFID is quite versatile and can be used for identification and tracking purposes. Various RFID tags are capable of withstanding rain, snow, extreme humidity and heat, without failure. Barcodes don’t work in snow.
RFID is quite accurate. It can read hundreds of RFID tags per second whereas Barcode scanners are prone to mismatching the data and human errors are also common.
5. Tracking functions
RFID is also capable of tracking assets in large warehouses and inventories. By placing RFID readers at various intersections, the tracking range is extended as well. This is not feasible with barcodes.
RFID and Barcodes
As explained above, both of these technologies have been around for a long time but RFID is now preferred to barcodes in asset tracking specific applications. The implementation costs of RFID have come down greatly and businesses are more familiar with the technology now than before. Barcodes have a proven use in product identification and UPC (Universal Product Code, 12 digits) and EAN (European Article Number, 13 digits) have global penetration as popular barcoding methods. It is cost effective, so that works well in its favor as well. However, new advancements in the field of RFID such as Chipless RFID will have a market disrupting effect. Since Chipless RFID replaces the silicon chip with linear encoders to hold data, the cost of chipless RFID is likely to come down less than 0.01 USD. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Chipless RFID is bound to replace barcodes for it offers all the benefits of chipped RFID and the cost is extremely low and the benefits will far outweigh the cost involved.
RFID and Barcode, sometimes are used together on items to ensure that the item is correctly identified even if one of these fail to do so.
To conclude, RFID and Barcoding, both are quite popular when it comes to asset tracking and item-level labeling respectively. Both of these technologies have developed a niche in asset management but RFID technology is quite efficient, accurate, and high performing than barcode and the chipless RFID will successfully remove the need of barcode in due time with its high efficiency and low cost advantages.