Barcode or RFID? Choose Your Best Fit

Choose the right tools to track your assets

Each season of the year seems to have its particular impact on the human psyche. In spring, we seem to take account of what we have and rid ourselves of the unnecessary, thus giving way to the customary “Spring cleaning”. 

In the Fall, we find ourselves collecting everything and putting it away.

The “putting away” is true of those who work outside for a living, especially in northern climates where harsh condition grind to a halt all outside projects. Garden nurseries, construction companies and others collect their assets and prepare for the storage and equipment maintenance that comes with winter. 

The time-consuming task of spring cleaning and subsequent putting away of items has greatly changed over the years. What used to take days to weeks can now be achieved in a few minutes or hours thanks to modern asset tracking systems.

Bar Code, RFID Technology Speeds Up Tracking Process

No more do large commercial organizations wonder where all of their tools and equipment have gone over the summer. Through a network of protocols called electronic tracking, equipment and tool tracking using mobile apps and hardware gives that information wherever and whenever there’s a need to know.

Two kinds of technology are primarily used for that information retrieval: software that uses bar code labels and software that uses RFID technology. Neither tracking system is particularly superior to the other depending on what is to be tracked, what you need to know about the tracked asset and how the tracking will occur.

Speed tag reads, visibility of tags, cost, and integration into existing systems are generally the factors for choosing the technology that best fits. Bar codes differ from RFID tags because lasers need a direct line of sight to read bar code images. If tools are lined up so that bar codes are readily apparent to the laser in a bar code reader, bar code technology works fine.

Tools in a tool bin or chest lying on a surface with a bar code label facing out can be easily scanned. Likewise, on the job, a bar code label on a piece of equipment that is visible can easily be read by a stationary or handheld bar code reader.

But, coiled hoses, cables or tags that are hidden or out of sight would require RFID technology to be read because, chances are, a bar code label could not be easily read. RFID waves bounce around so tags are discovered and read from almost every vantage point.

A tool tag smeared with grease or dirt can even be read and RFID tags read at longer distances than line of sight bar code tags - a plus in many applications and industries.

RFID Tags Offer Faster Reads

Speed also is a determining factor. Bar codes scan one item at a time. RFID tags scan many items at one time and record data into software programs faster. If speed in tracking or inventorying in your workflow or application is essential, RFID may be a better technical choice.

Other factors that might be taken into consideration when choosing tool tracking software are:

  • Uniformity of size and shape of tools - RFID scans a variety of tools all at once, in seconds, for instance, a mix of punches, scissors and scalpels in a medical closet or a mix of tiny gem setting tools in jewelry manufacturing. Bar code scanners scan item by item: with bar codes, faster reads can be accomplished only through uniformity.
     
  • Tool composition - RFID readers have some trouble with metal (although most can be overcome). Bar code readers have no such difficulty reading bar code.
  • Gathered information needed - both bar code and RFID software inform of presence: here/not here; in/out. RFID software gives more information because the code accounts for uniqueness and so, discriminates more specifically when dealing with data.

In the final analysis, technologies like bar code and RFID coupled with asset tracking software alleviates the frustrations of asset tracking like tool management and inventory to ensure your “Spring cleaning” and Fall “put away” cycles for your equipment and tools goes smoothly every year.