RFID Versus Barcode Inventory Tracking System: Which One to Choose?

by Dan

Inventories, big or small, need proper management to ensure smooth business operations. Almost all the business activities depend on inventory either directly or indirectly; hence inventory management must be carried out efficiently. For better inventory management, inventory needs to be visible. Inventory management software automates inventory management, and with an inventory tracking system, it helps locate and track items easily and more reliably.

RFID and Barcode inventory tracking systems are two such systems that make tracking and monitoring inventory levels easier with great accuracy. When integrated with inventory management software, both systems make inventory management more effective, productive, and accurate. These systems help inventory management software maintain optimal inventory levels and tracking easier throughout the supply chain. In this post, we will briefly discuss both RFID and Barcode systems and discuss which one of them to choose based on several aspects.

Barcode Inventory Tracking Systems

Barcode systems use hardware like a barcode scanner and printer and software for barcode scanning, data recording, and other related activities. Every item when entering inventory, whether purchased or produced, is given a unique barcode. Barcode scanners print these barcodes once, the list of all items moved in the stock are listed in the software. This list is recorded in a spreadsheet, and further, the software generates barcodes for each of the items recorded. These barcodes are then pasted on the respective items, and whenever they leave the inventory, they are scanned by the barcode reader. This is how the movement of every item in and out of the inventory is tracked. It helps to keep up with real-time and accurate knowledge of the inventory in-hand. 

RFID Inventory Tracking System

An RFID inventory system consists of RFID tags, a scanner. RFID tags are tied to every item or product in the inventory, and these tags contain information like batch id, etc. of the product. When actuated by an electromagnetic pulse from the nearby RFID reader, the radio transmitter enclosed in the tag shares digital information with the reader. This is how RFID inventory systems track the products inside and outside the inventory throughout the supply chain. There are two types of RFID inventory systems, i.e., active and passive. 

Passive RFID systems generally use handheld RFID readers to track inventory. In contrast, active RFID systems need RFID readers to be installed at multiple points inside the warehouse and other outdoor checkpoints. Whenever an item passes through any of these readers, the movement gets registered, and it gets easier to track the inventory. Active RFID systems offer a long-range, i.e., sensing the tag’s motion from a long-distance. Whereas passive RFID systems have a comparatively shorter range and therefore it’s viable to use them for indoor tracking. Passive RFID systems are relatively cheaper as there is no special installation required, as in active systems. 

The One To Choose

Let’s discuss which inventory tracking system out of RFID and barcode is ideal based on your inventory needs.

#1 Budget

The main concern for businesses while making any purchase or investment is always the amount they can spend. The barcode inventory systems are comparatively cheaper than RFID systems. As an in-built chip with a transponder is fitted in the RFID tags, they are a bit expensive for inventory tracking. Whereas barcode systems don’t require such tags and barcodes are normally cheaper to use and simple in design. Therefore it is ideal for businesses with smaller budgets and inventories to use Barcode inventory tracking systems. The businesses with valuable inventories and higher budgets can go for RFID systems.

#2 The Items To Be Tracked

The type and size of the inventory items are significant to account for while choosing an inventory tracking system. For example, some businesses have a uniform type of inventory of consistent sizes and styles. Barcode systems are suitable in such cases. Sometimes, the inventory items are of non-uniform sizes and types. In such cases, it is advisable to use RFID systems. RFID systems have a long read range that is most suitable for non-uniform and large inventories.

#3 Type of Environment And Location

It is imperative to account for the location and environment wherein the inventory needs to be tracked and kept. Different settings have different inventory requirements; thus, the inventory tracking system required highly depends on it. Barcodes are reliable for dry climates and mainly retail environments. They can’t survive in rainy or humid conditions as they are most likely to fade or wash away. Moreover, barcode scanners have line-of-sight requirements, which means that the barcode that needs to be scanned should be held real close to the barcode reader. If the barcode gets a little dirty or fades, most likely, it won’t get scanned by the reader. Thus barcodes are not at all suitable for such weather conditions.

RFID tags have a microchip enclosed in plastic or hard shells for extra protection. This type of design makes RFID tags robust and very reliable in extreme climatic conditions. Thus it is ideal to select an RFID inventory system if the items need to be shipped or stored in humid or rainy locations. This system has no line of sight requirement; thus, it can scan the tags even from a distance and has a long read range.

#4 Speed of Operation

As we discussed, the barcode inventory system holds a line of sight requirement due to which the reader needs to be kept close to the barcode. Also, it involves manual handling, which makes it quite slow. In contrast to this, the RFID inventory system holds no line of sight requirements and is fully automated. Thus it can scan the items faster and is most suitable for extensive inventories. RFID inventory systems are automated and so save a lot of time and resources for the business.

Summing Up

RFID and Barcode inventory tracking systems are the two most important and reliable systems for inventory management. They help to locate, track, and maintain the real-time record of the inventory. Both of these systems are efficient, but the one that a business should choose for its inventory depends on the type, size, and location. The environment in which shipping needs to be done also plays a factor to account for while selecting inventory tracking systems. Thus it is advisable to account for the needs and other aspects of the inventory precisely to purchase the right design fit to your business.

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