What’s the buzz about radio frequency identification or RFID?
You may have heard about RFID. You may have even heard about barcodes. But what is the difference between the two?
Simply put, a barcode is a code that includes a group of printed and patterned bars, spaces and sometimes numbers that contain identifying details of a particular object. Barcodes make it possible to avoid manual keying of data into a computer as long as the barcode reader is able to collect or scan the information.
Barcodes require a scanner that picks up the data and transfers the information to a computer and appropriate software application. The barcodes that are most familiar to most people are those found at the grocery store. What you may not know is that there is a difference between the types of lines in a barcode. The combination of thick and thin bars and spaces between the bars contain all the data of an item, but there are limitations to how much data can be stored and captured using a barcode.
The advantages of barcodes include a quicker read of scanned items as well as offering a level of consistent identification over manual data entry. It is also relatively inexpensive to be mass-produced. In addition, barcode patents are license-free and are in use worldwide. While barcodes have been in use since 1967, when the Kroger Company developed the first barcode system for commercial use, there are several limitations and there is another technology that is proving to be a more effective. It’s radio frequency identification or RFID for short.
RFID is similar, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of barcode technology. It also contains details about an object, but it’s how that data is stored that is different. RFID utilizes a tag or antenna to hold the identifying details of the item. It also allows the information to be accessed at a greater distance than a barcode.You may be wondering why having a greater access distance is important. In terms of materials management, it allows for ease of inventorying and protects against shrinkage or theft. Amazingly, RFID tags can be read at distances up to 300 feet. Barcode range pales in comparison at a mere fifteen feet or less.
Another advantage of RFID over barcodes includes how the readers access the data. Barcode readers require a direct line of sight to read the printed barcode, while RFID tags (also known as passive RFID tags) do not. Anyone who has had to wait in the express checkout line because a barcode cannot be read will understand the importance of not having a direct lighting requirement. In addition, the line of sight requirement limits the lifespan of a physical barcode in terms of its reusability. RFID tags are more durable, since the electronic component is generally better protected with a plastic covering. RFID tags can also be implanted in a product, which adds to its lifespan and ability to be reused.
Two other advantages of RFID include the rate at which readers can interrogate or read tags. RFID allows for amazing read rates of forty or more tags per second. Barcodes take much more time, especially if the barcode has been damaged or there isn’t proper lighting. Average read time for a barcode is approximately a half second for each one. Barcodes also do not have read/write capability. In other words, you get what you get. With an RFID tag, there is the ability to read/write and the reader can communicate with the tag and modify the information as much as the tag will permit.
The downside to the newer technology is that RFID tags are typically more expensive than barcodes, in some cases, much more so. However, as RFID becomes more popular (read mainstream), the price will go down. The estimate for RFID use over the next few years is expected to surpass barcode usage. Perhaps we’ll begin to see dramatic increases in RFID use and decreases in the cost sooner than we expect.
For more information on how Spacesaver has integrated RFID, check out our healthcare products page.
If you’d like to learn more about RFID technology, the RFID Journal.