Whenever you are looking to automate the Asset inventory and tracking, one of the most critical choices to be made is whether to use barcodes or RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to tag and track assets. These technologies are most widely used for asset tracking and are hence, regularly compared against each other.

Depending on the requirements, both RFID and barcode have their own set of advantages and disadvantages to be considered. Let’s understand what they are before discussing their application in asset management and the difference between them.

What is RFID?

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology that automates data collection via radio frequency waves. In this technology, RFID tags are placed on the assets to be tracked and are programmed with a unique serial number. There are 3 main components of RFID technology when used for Asset Tracking as mentioned below:

  • RFID Tags
  • Software
  • RFID compatible reader – Fixed and Handheld

What is Barcode?

Barcode technology is also a way of capturing asset data in the machine-readable form of information on a scannable surface. A barcode consists of bars of varying widths that can be read with a barcode scanner. The barcode collects the serial number and that can be  stored  in a central database.

Though Barcode or QR Code has been used in asset tracking for a long time, significant growth can be seen in the utilization of Asset Tracking RFID Technology lately. Both technologies improve data accuracy and minimize human errors besides enabling the automatic identification of assets with the use of machine-readable asset tags.

A clear understanding of your necessities around durability, security, cost, implementation, and some other important factors can help you evaluate the best option. Additionally, it is important for you to understand the difference between the two technologies in the context of their use in Asset Tracking.

In this article, we will list the advantages of each in context with a variety of important factors that differentiate these two technologies, and help you decide which one is right for you. Let’s take a look:

  1. Line of Sight: Use of Barcode based Asset Tracking Software and technology requires a line of sight from the reader to the tag. The reader needs to see the tag in order to read it. On the other hand, Asset Tracking using RFID Technology does not require a line of sight between the reader and the tag. This means the RFID reader can trace a tag within its range even if the reader is not directly placed in sight of the tag. The range of reading depends upon the type of label and reader used. Clearly, RFID results in easier and faster asset inventory management as compared to Barcode technology due to the fact that it does not need line of sight between reader and tags.
  2. Throughput: If you are looking for better throughput or bulk updates while managing your assets, your go to choice is RFID technology. Wondering why? The reason is RFID readers can read multiple labels at the same time. This results in bulk updates of asset transactions unlike barcodes, which can only read one barcode at a time and takes a while to finish bulk updates.
    However, since RFID does not need a line of sight, it can also result in inaccuracies during physical verification of assets. For example, tags could not get read because of intervention of metal or water or any other reason. Another scenario could be of tags getting read even when they were not on the asset. This gives an opportunity to fraud or misappropriation. A great benefit of using Barcodes is that you are assured of accuracy. When doing the physical verification of assets scanning barcode tags on assets, you also validate that the tag is indeed placed on the asset.
  3. Automated Check-in and Check-out of the assets: If the assets to be tracked are highly mobile, it makes more sense to use RFID technology for its capability to record the movements of assets using fixed readers without manual effort. As the asset passes through the reader, the inward and outward movement can be recorded in the database automatically. The takeaway here is if there are a large number of mobile assets and you want to track their inward and outward movements, it makes better sense to use RFID Technology rather than Barcode Technology for Asset Tracking.
  4. Manpower: Beyond any doubt, the RFID system requires less labor force. Reducing manpower and streamlining automation are the best features of RFID technology. It takes the automation in scanning of assets to a different level. On the contrary, Barcode technology is still labor intensive when compared to RFID technology. As it needs a line of sight, the reading cannot be automated or hurried up. Every asset needs to be verified one at a time. This results in the requirement for higher manpower during every asset transaction.
  5. Cost: The cost of using a Barcode system is usually cheaper than an RFID system. An RFID reader is costlier than a barcode scanner. A barcode tag can be read through smartphones too, however, to read RFID tags, you need a RFID reader. On the other hand, to read barcodes, you need a low-cost barcode scanner. Even most of the smartphones available today are capable of reading barcodes. This reduces the cost of barcode implementation for asset tracking compared to RFID. If you are looking for a more affordable technology for asset tracking, you should consider Barcode based asset tracking solution.
  6. Implementation time: Implementing RFID based asset tracking could be more time-consuming and difficult compared to Barcoding. Right from identifying and acquiring the types of tags required to installing the readers and solution, RFID implementation has to be carried out carefully to ensure that it is successful. Barcode technology only needs affixing asset tags and no other infrastructure and hence, can be implemented faster.
  7. Data Privacy: When it comes to data privacy and security, RFID technology is an obvious choice. In RFID technology, asset data (tag number and other asset specific information) can be encrypted. This enables businesses to get a high level of data privacy while managing their assets. On the contrary, barcode technology has a comparatively lower level of data privacy. The reason being that barcodes can be easily forged, reproduced and are considered not that secure.

Conclusion

When we break it down, barcode and RFID technologies have their own advantages and disadvantages and there isn’t a clear winner. If there was one, it would have replaced the other technology entirely already. Sometimes, RFID works very well, while in some specific cases, barcode makes the most sense.

When it comes to choosing the right technology for asset tracking, you need to consider the most important factors that align with your requirements. These features could be the nature of the assets to be tracked, the objective of tracking, the frequency of tracking, the environment of implementation, the type of assets to be tracked, and so on.

Sometimes both technologies could complement each other, and using a combination of both could be the answer. So, it all depends on various factors on which of the two or both technologies should be used for an efficient and cost effective asset tracking implementation. If you want to know more about which technology works best for you, get in touch with our experts at AssetCues.