RFID vs. barcode: What works better for your business?

///, Inventory Management/RFID vs. barcode: What works better for your business?

With the end of the year coming up, manufacturers have physical inventory counts to look forward to. This process a requirement to make sure that materials are up to date and any excess inventory has been adequately logged. For companies with a large variety of products in the storage facilities and distribution centers, there are many ways to efficiently count inventory so that the process takes as little time as possible and minimizes disruption to overall operations. One method is through the use of barcodes that are either in the standard one-dimensional or two-dimensional quick response forms. Another is to plant radio frequency identification tags on each item. Utilizing either method in a mobile warehouse management system can help make the counting process faster and more efficient.

Scanning and reading
As Adapt A Lift notes, barcodes have been in place since the 1970s. As a consequence, they're fairly ubiquitous all around the world. This makes them by far the least expensive option for manufacturers and distributors. Since most businesses already have barcode scanners, they don't need to invest in new technology just to complete inventory counting. In addition, many enterprise resource planning solutions such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV offer modules such as utilizing a barcode inventory system that make it easy to keep track of items in inventory. They are also small, light and easy to affix to items. Placement is also not an issue with barcodes, meaning they can be put on any surface and still be scanned.

Of course, there are certain challenges with using barcodes. For example, scans must be done within line of sight, meaning that people must be on hand to perform the counts and scans on each individual item. They also need to be done within a short distance, with the best scanners only having a maximum reading distance of 15 feet. There are also issues with scanning itself: Barcodes are printed on paper or weak plastic, and because they have to be scanned within line of sight, they must be exposed, risking damage. If there's a tear in the barcode, it will not scan at all.

As an alternative, RFID tags address a lot of the problems that barcodes have. For example, they can be read away from line of sight, since they're essentially radio transmitters. Multiple tags can be read at once at distances of up to 200 feet. They can also have additional information added to each tag every time something important comes up, such as repairs or changes in an intended order. In addition, Technovelgy says that these tags are far more rugged, having a greater potential for reusability.

At the same time, there are known drawbacks with using RFID. For example, because they require affixing a chip with a transmitter, they're far more expensive than barcodes. They also may have a hard time being read through metal or liquid, since those materials cause radio interference. In addition, there's a risk of signal and tag overlap that could cause miscounts if more than one reader is being used on multiple tags. Whatever the choice, businesses have a better way of making counts than doing it by hand.

For more information on improving efficiency with barcode technology, download the free white paper entitled "Keeping the Physical World and the Virtual World in Sync" from DMS today.