Is a barcode better than RFID

What advantages does RFID radio technology have over barcodes? Intralogistics has also been dealing with this question for some time. In principle, more information is available with the conventional use of RFID. Logistical as well as production-related processes can also be optimized more quickly and promptly thanks to the lively exchange of information between the RFID transponders. The radio transmission via RFID technology ensures that, for example, the flow of information accompanying the material (inventory management) is compared with other, mostly higher-level systems without delay.

With Industry 4.0 or the Internet of Things (IoT), the automatic control and recording or tracking of products is accelerated within their entire life cycle. In order to be able to track products seamlessly and in "real time", retail, production and logistics are increasingly relying on RFID technology. The radio technology is particularly well suited for a continuous flow of information; when information is tapped automatically. However, active transponders must be used for this. They send and receive at the same time and constantly exchange information with transceiver units. In many cases, the latter are already connected to a warehouse management system, an ERP system or, directly at the point of sale (PoS), to a commercial system.

Expectations of RFID technology

  • Accelerate processes
  • Simplify processes
  • Increase in performance / throughput
  • Minimize reading errors
  • Improve information content and flow of information
  • Increase transparency

Decisive advantages of the RFID technology are

  • Contactless identification (even without visual contact)
  • Transmit and receive signals penetrate various materials (cardboard, wood, plastic, clothing)
  • Transponder can be read out and written to
  • In some cases, the detection of RFID-equipped objects is up to 20 times faster than the barcode
  • Simultaneous acquisition of many transponders (bulk acquisition)
  • The shape and size of the transponder can be adjusted in some cases
  • Transponders can be implemented directly in the product
  • High security through copy protection
  • Encryption of information
  • Data can be saved directly on the chip - no external database is required
  • Reading out an RFID tag is possible even if it is dirty
  • The placement of the object to be scanned is less of a problem than the barcode. It is sufficient if the object is within the reading distance of the registration unit

Barcode and RFID: two technologies, one intralogistic world

Up-to-date and future-proof logistics projects will require a large amount of information about the product itself, the current product status, product quality and process progress in the future. A decisive advantage of RFID is that information can be carried directly on the product and added to the process flow. The information does not have to be sent in parallel, for example by means of notification, and stored in a database, as is the case with barcodes. Rather, all information can be stored on the RFID tag independently of the system, accessed and, if necessary, taken over by the system provided for this purpose. However, the system mentioned must be able to interpret and read out the data structure for this.

Another advantage of the RFID tags is the ability to perceive environmental influences or physical variables (environmental measurement). For example, vibrations and temperatures can be measured, stored in terms of data and read out. For this purpose, the tags are equipped with additional components, so-called sensors (sensor RFID). If, for example, goods have to be transported within a defined cold chain, the RFID tag uses sensors to store any temperature deviations. They are either transmitted to the recipient via a mobile radio interface during transport or read out directly at the incoming goods department. In extreme cases, the recipient could reject the delivered goods before storage due to the so-called "break in the transport chain".

Barcode and its authorization

Nevertheless, barcode technology will continue to be used in many areas in the future. For example, the GS1 standard barcode allows the barcode and the associated data (batch / batch number, expiry date, item description, transport unit, identification and classification number, lot number and net weight, etc.) to be recorded without errors. In addition, in most distribution centers, regardless of the level of automation, storage space management and order picking are controlled using barcodes. Reason: When it comes to storage space management and order picking, a lot usually revolves around the acknowledgment after the item has been removed and the marriage of storage spaces with the stored goods. On the one hand, the read confirmation or the acknowledgment after the scan, both of which are not fundamentally supported with RFID tags, are important aspects for the use of barcode technology. On the other hand, the more cost-effective barcode as a data carrier medium, including the required hardware (scanner), should continue to be a weighty argument for many logistics planners. Otherwise, not only would each product have to be equipped with a more expensive RFID tag, the storage area would also have to be equipped with the radio standard.

Important: In the meantime, HD barcodes are being used more and more frequently. They have a storage capacity of over 700 kilobytes. In contrast to the RFID tag, however, the stored information cannot be read out completely by every scanner.

In practice, barcodes are identified with a numerical sequence in addition to the code. If the barcode is illegible, there is another possibility of identification thanks to the combination of numbers. In the case of a defective RFID transponder, on the other hand, the goods become nameless and addressless.

If you are interested in the labeling of stored goods, then read the detailed article on the subject of inventory management.

Image source: © Felix Pergande -

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TUP - editorial team

The editorial team of DR. THOMAS + PARTNER GmbH & Co. KG launched the platform Logistik KNOWHOW, administrates and coordinates the contributions and creates content for various categories.

The software manufacturer DR. THOMAS + PARTNER from the Karlsruhe area has been realizing tailor-made intralogistics IT systems for over 40 years, with a special focus on warehouse management and material flow. Well-known customers include national and international companies of various sizes and sectors.

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