RFID Asset Tracking vs. Barcode Asset Tracking: 3 Things to Consider

Regardless of the environment, asset management begins with uniquely identifying each asset. This concept is easy to understand but is often challenging to execute.

So why would you select an RFID tag rather than a linear or 2D barcode?

Especially when considering that RFID can be much more complex, the tags are more expensive. Likewise, RFID readers and encoders are typically more expensive than barcode terminals and printers.

First Consideration: How much data needs to be embedded in the tag?

An Asset tag can be best described as a “license plate”. It is a unique identifier that ties to a record in the software database. The database typically contains the detailed description of the asset, just as your car’s license plate refers to the manufacturer, model, and year of your vehicle.

However, there are applications that require more volumes of data in a single tag. RFID wirelessly reads data from smart labels that are able to hold more data than linear bar codes (currently up to 2000 bits).

Second Consideration: In what environment do you intend to apply the solution?

Is there a clear line of sight, high amounts of sunlight exposure, very little light, etc.  RFID scanners can typically read smart labels even when covered in dirt, grease or other contaminants (there are qualifications to this statement; for example a metallic container can cause issues for an RFID reader). Specialized RFID tags can even be read through water.

RFID readers do not require a direct line of sight between the label and reader and can, given matching tag and reader technology, read from a much greater distance than a barcode scanner.

Third Consideration: What’s the application?

Before moving ahead with RFID technology, make sure you are working with an expert. Most asset management software is designed to input a single item per scan. As an example, if your goal is to scan the contents of a truck all at once, you will need middleware that can separate each item identifier and translate it to the asset management software. (Imagine trying to read and understand the page of a book with no punctuation.)

RFID technology is still relatively complex – for example, not all readers scan all tags. You will need to work with someone who understands the technology and can advise you on the most effective implementation for your business.

So, why shouldn’t I choose RFID? Answer: Budget.

While RFID is very promising in terms of its capabilities, it is also very expensive. Remember, as a business, everything you do should back out into the highest possible ROI. For some applications, the increase in overall profitability far outweighs the cost of an RFID solution.  For others, barcode asset tracking will result in the greatest possible return on investment.

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image credit: melanie_hughes