Barcodes and RFiD both get used in tracking and data collection. If there is large volume of goods, assets, vehicles or they are difficult to track manually,  the technologies like  RFID , Barcode , QR code, GPS and many other  can be deployed .. However,  it is difficult to choose suitable technology which is dependent on host of factors such as cost, accuracy , ease etc. For example, GPS technologies are good for tracking movement within the error margin of 2-3 meters usually but not so accurate  when the material, assets , equipment & vehicle need to be moved within smaller area such as a warehouse  or a factory.

In this article I will cover two technologies that  are increasingly used for the movement and analysis of movements undertaken for short distances. These technologies are Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) and Barcode . which are stable and easy to use. It may be noted these technologies only get teeth only when they are combined by clever algorithms and  useful software designs. For example,  readers should not confuse that an RFID based gate open/ close system  is same as process improvement solution , though they both use same technology for tracking. The latter is much more complex  given the permutation and combination of processes in different places.  I will discuss the software part in subsequent articles and devoting this article to help users with pointers to decide which technology can work better in different contexts.

RFID & Barcode: The Similarities

RFID and barcodes are similar in a few points:

  • If you want to track your materials both RFID tags and barcode labels can help in that for you.
  • They are both means of collecting data.
  • Stored data on both kinds of tags can be retrieved via either fixed or handheld scanning devices, and, therefore, both are incredibly popular as part of the inventory tracking.
  • These are all used for inventory management and tracking.

RFID & Barcode: The Differences

However, these two types of tracking technologies also differ quite a bit:

  • Barcodes are designed to be scanned one at a time whereas many RFID tags can be scanned at once.
  • Barcodes require that the scanner maintain a line-of-sight with each code, while RFID is a “near field” technology, so the scanner only needs to be within range of the tag to read it.
  • Barcodes are generally printed on paper or adhesive labels, so they are prone to wear and damage, while an RFID tag is generally a tougher product that can withstand more abuse.
  • The type and volume of data on barcodes is more limited than what can be stored on an RFID tag.

RFID & Barcode: Which is better?

Barcode technology has been there for ages, RFiD is a relatively newer technology. However, we just can’t say that RFiD is superior to the barcodes as it is new. It all depends on the usage and both the technologies have proven themselves over a period.

In some circumstances the barcode can be a better choice than RFiD. For example, if the needs of a business can be accomplished within the limitations of barcode, then the barcode system will be a better choice as the cost of a barcode-based system will be less expensive to purchase and integrate. But just in case you do not want to bind your system with the limitations that the barcode offers then the RFiD based system is better as it has lesser limitations than barcodes. Due to this fact the RFiD based system is becoming more popular.

Placed head-to-head, RFID does generally win on most performance metrics:

It may be noted that RFID technology can be used for purely automatic tracking but bar coders are easier to handle manually . Barcode Readers  tend to be far cheaper than the RFID scanners .

RFID vs. Barcode: How do you choose?

As already noted, whether it’s done via handheld scanner or if items are passed through a fixed site, each barcode label needs to be directly read by a scanner that “sees” its unique image. The barcode label needs to be relatively clean and intact, or it may not read correctly. The opportunity to automate any part of the inventory process is fairly limited outside of the conveyor belt scenario, because scanning a barcode is a very deliberate action that must take place in a particular way, or it won’t work.

RFID tags, on the other hand, just need to pass somewhere within range of an antenna, and multiple antennas can operate simultaneously to read any number of tags. Since the antennas can be built into various configurations and setup with varying ranges, a passive, highly automated process can be designed around whatever the current workflow or environment requires. This flexibility is one of the key reasons many organizations end up going with RFID even if barcoding could work for them.

Following table gives the insight into the different types of RFiD available and how they compare to the Barcode in terms of the reading range.

Technology Detection Range Constraints
UHF Passive RFiD Up to 20 Ft
UHF Active RFiD Up to 300 ft Costs more, these are battery powered, so one will have to change the batteries every 3-5 years
NFC Up to 0.4 ft Reader must almost touch the tags
Barcode / QR Code# Up to 6 ft Barcode/QR code printer will have to be purchased separately
QR Code# Up to 6 ft


Benefit from RFiD and Barcode based solutions from Clarice Systems

Clarice has various inventory management and tracking solutions based on these technologies, with several analytical reports and very low cost of owner ship makes it easier to adapt these solutions. Tracking and Tracing Systems Inventory Management System With RFID Tagging


Preceding paragraphs  provide a quick view on how the RFID and Barcode technologies compare . It may be also be noted in case the objective is reduce human intervention , accuracy and automation RFID wins. However, barcode technology is not without use due to its ease both in terms of development and deployment. A mobile app can work as barcode reader plus and analytics tool , whereas RFID scanners  , though powerful , need different hardware.

To summarize , RFID technology is utilized in following typical scenarios:

  • Automatic scanning
  • Large volumes
  • Complex processes which tend to give rise to human errors and data unavailability
  • Use cases are Asset Tracking in a warehouse of factory with multiple processes ( e.g. Entry, Weighing , Parking , Loading time , Billing and QC , Exit ), Equipment tracking ( Forklifts , cranes etc. ) in small area , Consumables tracking ( Tyres & spares etc.), Highly accurate material tracking in a warehouse etc.

Whereas, Barcode technology is deployed in the scenarios characterized by:

  • Lower volume
  • Manual intervention such as when each SKU needs to be manually entered ( though RFID can do without manual intervention it is more expensive )
  • Less budget ( typically a tenth to fifth that of RFID)
  • Use cases are material tracking in a warehouse with manual inspection , process mapping when the workflow is simple etc.

About the author

Bimlendu Verma is the President at Clarice Systems. He has spent most of his career in the automotive industry and has spent the past few years developing IIoT products and services. This blend in knowledge of Automation Technology allows Bimlendu to quickly understand how these technologies be applied with existing systems to assist customers so as to improve their productivity and quality.