Goodbye Barcodes, Hello RFID Tags?

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Posted May 29, 2017 7:00:00 AM by Ryan Foust & filed under RFID

There has been a lot of talk about barcodes getting the boot as more and more industries start using RFID technology. While it is a known fact that RFID has more advantages than barcodes, it does not necessarily discount the value barcodes bring to the enterprise.  

Why Barcodes?

Everybody knows what barcodes are – they are those tiny tags on boxes of cereal, or in tubs of butter that cashiers run through a scanner as they ring up grocery purchase. Initially made of vertical lines that contain data, barcodes later came to represent data through two-dimensional geometric shapes. Barcodes are not only used for tagging prices; they can also be used to contain information necessary for inventory keeping, goods distribution and other related processes. Many businesses still employ the use of barcodes for the following reasons:

  1. Cheap. Since they are printed on either paper or plastic, barcodes are not expensive to produce unlike RFID tags which need embedded computer chips.
  2. Not material dependent. No matter where they are placed, barcodes can be read with the same accuracy. The same cannot be said for RFID whose waves are absorbed by water and deflected by metal, making them difficult to read.
  3. Universal. Barcodes are the norm in retail; all barcodes can be read any barcode reader from anywhere in the world.  Conversely, RFID tags have separate chips that cannot be read by the same machine.


Barcode and RFID technologies have different applications that more often than not overlap, which is why we are naturally drawn to comparing the two. With that said, let us look at the reasons why most people think that the birth and growth of RFID technology is killing the barcode.

  1. Less labor-intensive. RFID can be read as long as the tag is in the range of the RFID reader, unlike barcodes that need to be in the light of sight of readers in order to be read. Workers do not need to physically scan each tag; once the RFID system is installed, it pretty much works on its own.
  2. Faster read rate. Multiple RFID tags can be read at the same time, unlike barcodes that need to be read manually one at a time.
  3. More rugged. RFID tags are covered with plastic, they are tough unlike barcodes that are usually made of paper which can easily tear and fade when exposed to moisture, disabling its capability to be read.
  4. Larger data capabilities. Unlike barcodes that contain only the product name and manufacturer, RFID tags can store additional information like expiry dates, product maintenance dates and other similar data.
  5. Read and write capabilities. RFID has read and write abilities which also allow for updating and modifying of the information the tag contains. Barcodes have only read capabilities. 
  6. Higher security. RFID contains data that can be encrypted, ensuring that the information is secured and protected. Barcodes are easy to replicate and are more prone to counterfeit.

Both technologies have positive and negative points, so who is to say which is better? Ultimately, business owners need to examine their business needs in order to decide whether they will be using the barcode or RFID.


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