Category: Blog

RFID vs. Barcodes: Can’t We Just Get Along?

By Sara Bortz,

With Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) gathering steam over the last several years, many people are asking if it is time to get rid of Barcodes and for RFID to take over. There are a multitude of benefits to using RFID, but there is still a time and place for Barcodes, and many applications for both technologies to coexist. So just how do these technologies help businesses do more with less, and when should you look at one application over the other?

How AIT helps businesses do more with less

Barcodes and RFID are Automatic Identification Technologies (AIT) that significantly improve processes by automating many of the manual aspects such as using tracking spreadsheets and physically going to search for misplaced assets. Some of the industries that have started implementing this technology include Healthcare, Manufacturing, and even Legal. In these industries, one tiny mistake can have a huge impact, so why take that chance if you can easily prevent it?

AIT helps answer the question “Where’s my stuff?” and gives better visibility of exactly what you have and where to find it. This will increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs. For industries heavy in compliance needs, a solution to track each piece of information is critical. Having a technology solution to automate processes will help ensure audit compliance.

Many companies face issues tracking their critical assets and need to have a buffer of items to use when something is misplaced. AIT lessens or eliminates that need for extra items. AIT can also integrate with other technologies and can automate processes that those systems aren’t able to handle. For example, manual entries into an ERP system can be entered automatically through a scanner. Many times, when something is entered manually into the system, it leaves the process open to human error and you are only able to upload the information once or twice a day at most. AIT solutions allow for frequent automatic data capture that provides real time information to your ERP systems. As a result, your ERP system is more accurate and up-to-date. When you have a fast-paced environment, you need a technology that can keep up.

Box barcode graphic Box checkmark graphic

*Client Testimonial: We divided our building into sections with a few rooms in each section. I use our asset tracking solution to inventory the sections of our office each week, which captures a last known location for each document. When trying to locate a file, I go to our asset tracking software to find the last known location and start with that section first. The good thing about CATS is the Geiger counter feature. If the reader beeps, I know the files is in that area and then follow the increased beeping to its precise location. – Case Manager at Ohio Law Firm

When to use Barcodes or RFID

When choosing which technology to use, you need to determine what your critical assets are. What will shut down production if the item is missing? You also will want to look at your workflow to best understand what technology can help improve your process the most. It could be either Barcodes or RFID, or a happy marriage of both.

RFID handheld scanners or fixed antennas emit RF waves that can scan multiple items at one time. Additionally, RF can penetrate certain materials or move around objects to identify RFID tags you aren’t able to see. This saves time and can be automated. Barcodes require line of sight and can only scan one item at a time. The precision of barcodes will ensure you don’t accidentally scan something you don’t want.

Barcodes have been more popular in the past because it has been a historically less expensive option than RFID. The cost of RFID has gone down a lot recently, but Barcodes are still the best way to track less expensive assets. For example, grocery store products like milk cartons are high volume, low cost items and it would be better to utilize a less expensive technology to track them.

Automation and technology provide advantages but require an investment. There is a sweet spot between investing in automation and technology versus continuing with manual processes. You need to analyze your operations to calculate which one provides the best ROI for your workflow and organization.

Radio waves on phone Barcode Reader graphic

Learn more in this Podcast with BlueStar.

If you have more questions or would like to further discuss your unique challenges, please schedule an appointment.

What to Know about RFID

By Sara Bortz,

What is RFID?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which describes a system that transmits a unique identifier, like a serial number, of an object or person wirelessly using radio waves. It falls under the category of Automatic Identification Technologies (AIT), which also includes bar codes, optical character readers, and some biometric technologies, such as retinal scans.

How Does RFID Work?

The components needed to be able to use RFID effectively include a tag, a reader, and a computer system. A typical RFID tag consists of a microchip attached to a radio antenna mounted on an item. A typical reader is a device that has one or more antennas that emit radio waves and receive signals back from the tag.

How RFID Works

The microchip stores information about a product or shipment such as date of manufacture, destination, and sell-by date. The chip in a tag can store as much as 2-8 kilobytes of data, depending on if it is disposable or reusable. The RFID reader retrieves the data stored on an RFID tag by sending and receiving radio signals via the antennas. The reader then passes the information in digital form to a computer system.

What are the Types of RFID Tags?

RFID tags can be classified by the radio frequency range they use to communicate (low, high, or ultra-high), and the way the tag communicates with the reader (active or passive). Generally speaking, the lower the frequency of the RFID system, the shorter the read range and slower the data read rate.

RFID Card Components

Low Frequency (LF)

– LF systems operate in the 30 KHz to 300 KHz range, and have a read range of up to 10 cm.
– While they have a shorter read range and slower data read rate than other technologies, they perform better in the presence of metal or liquids.

High Frequency (HF)

– HF systems operate in the 3 MHz to 30 MHz range and provide reading distances of 10 cm to 1 m. 
– HF waves can pass through most materials except for water and dense metals. Thin metals, like aluminum, can still be tagged with HF tags and function normally.
– HF tags rely on magnetic coupling as their power source so they tend to last the lifespan of the application unless damaged by wear and tear to the tag.

Ultra-High Frequency (UHF)

– UHF systems have a frequency range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz, offer read ranges up to 12 m, and have faster data transfer rates.
– They are more sensitive to interference from metals, liquids, and electromagnetic signals.

Active RFID Tags

– Powered by a battery and are able to transmit data at all times.
– The signal boosting power received from the internal battery also helps these tags to overcome any materials that usually hinder RF waves like metal and water. 
– They rely on a battery for power, so these tags (like their batteries) can only last about 3-5 years.
– Because active tags beacon, they are easier to read while moving and are ideal for tracking cargo containers and vehicles. 

Passive RFID Tags

– Must be powered up by the RFID reader before transmitting data.  
– Passive UHF tags come in many varieties like rugged, high-temperature, label tags, and high memory.
– These tags tend to last the lifespan of the application unless damaged by wear and tear. They do not have batteries so their lifespan is not dependent on a power source.
– They can be attached and embedded on a wider variety of objects

RFID tags come in multiple shapes, sizes, and materials. Passive tags are usually smaller, less expensive, and more flexible than active tags. In most instances, each type of RFID tag can only be read by the same type of RFID reader.  

See Through RFID Tag

What are the Types of RFID Readers?

Fixed RFID Readers

– Fixed readers are set up to read a specified area. This allows a highly defined reading area for when tags go in and out of the zone.
– They have higher power than other readers, and are ideal for non-mobile applications. Depending on the unit, they can have medium to high performance levels. 

Integrated RFID Readers

– Integrated readers are perfect for small reading zones meaning you can focus more attention to specific areas.
– This allows you to take inventory more accurately, find out if there are items in stock, and help others find what they’re looking for. 

Mobile RFID Readers

– Mobile readers may be handheld or mounted on movable objects.
– A handheld mobile has different applications that allows you to find a product quickly and easily.
– With a RFID-enabled pallet, you can identify the products and categorize them to ensure they are the right products. 
– Vehicle Mounted RFID readers have the ability to identify vehicles from a distance with quicker scans. 

Zebra handheld readerHoneywell handheld reader Alien Handheld ReaderCipher Lab handheld reader

What are the Types of RFID Microchips?

Microchips in RFID tags can be read-write, read-only or write once, read many (WORM).

– With read-write chips, you can add information to the tag or write over existing information when the tag is within range of a reader. Read-write tags usually have a serial number that can’t be written over.
– Read-only microchips have information stored on them during the manufacturing process. The information on such chips can never be changed. 
– WORM tags can have a serial number written to them once, and that information cannot be overwritten later.

What Are the Benefits of RFID? 

RFID was designed to reduce the amount of time and labor needed to input data and improve data accuracy. Barcode systems often require a person to manually scan a label or tag to capture the data. RFID is designed to enable readers to capture data on tags and transmit it to a computer system without needing a person to be involved. 

Many companies are attracted to RFID because it has the potential of offering perfect supply chain visibility – the ability to know the precise location of any product anywhere in the supply chain at any time. Since read ranges can go up to hundreds of feed, RFID systems offers a fast and reliable way to track assets without having to count each individual item. 

Because data is being collected and uploaded electronically, RFID also avoids transcription errors, duplication of data and “missed items” when used to collect data on large numbers of items simultaneously. By improving inventory management, organizations using RFID can provide a service that creates competitive differentiation and promotes increased customer satisfaction with the opportunities for higher sales and better margins.

Who Should Take Advantage of RFID?

RFID systems offer benefits for businesses of all sizes, allowing them to rapidly improve efficiency and reduce cost by automating processes and improving utilization of assets and quality. Any industry can benefit from the use of RFID. Some common uses are:

Asset Tracking
Fleet Management
Manufacturing Workflow
Roadway Work

A display showing how magnetic fields causes RFID to work

Any organization currently using barcode technology would benefit from upgrading to RFID or a combination of barcode and RFID. The cost savings and enhanced revenues achieved can very quickly cover the cost of the initial outlay.

With a wide range of choices, finding a RFID system that meets your needs can be difficult. In order to choose the type of RFID that works best for a given system, certain requirements need to be considered such as read range, data transmission rates, available features, etc. 

If you have more questions or would like to further discuss your unique challenges, please schedule an appointment.

  Category: Blog
  Comments: 3

Frequently Asked Questions

By Sara Bortz,


Q: Barcode vs RFID, how do I know which technology to use?

A: Barcode: Encodes digital data into a visual pattern (black lines and white spaces) that a barcode scanner can read. That encoded digital data from the barcode label transfers from the barcode scanner to a database. Barcode scanners read one label at a time and must be within line-of-sight of the scanner optics. The advantage of barcode technology is its accuracy and low price.

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification): Uses digital data encoded in RFID tags and captured by a RFID reader via radio waves. That encoded digital data from the tag transfers from the RFID reader to a database. RFID has several advantages over systems that use barcode technology. The most notable is that RFID tag data can be read outside the line-of-sight. Barcodes must align with an optical scanner. RFID scanners can also read a large amount of RFID tags at one time. Barcode scanners can only read one label at a time.

RFID Tag and Reader Flow

Selecting the right technology depends on your application and environment. If you need high accuracy and your assets are in narrow storage aisles, the best technology choice is generally barcode. If you have hundreds of assets located in large storage aisles, rooms, or buildings, usually the best technology choice is RFID.

*Note: These are very simplified examples. You must understand assets, application, and environment to select the right technology solution.

Q: What is the best RFID tag to use for asset tracking?

A: There is no one best RFID tag. RFID tags come in hundreds of types, sizes, shapes, read range performance, and price. The better question is: what is the best RFID tag for my unique asset, unique application requirements, and unique environment? Identifying these is key to selecting the best RFID tag for your solution.

Hand holding RFID tag

Q: What is the cost of RFID tags?

A: There is a great range in price of RFID tags. Based on volume, size, application, durability, RFID tags can cost as low as 10 cents or as much as $30+. Passive RFID tags are generally priced at the lower range and active tags that include a battery are at the upper range.

Q: What are the components of an Asset Tracking Solution?

A: The following include components of an Asset Tracking Solution:

  • Barcode or RFID labels and tags
  • Barcode or RFID Mobile Scanners
  • Barcode or RFID Fixed Reader/Antennas
  • Asset Tracking Software: provides accurate asset visibility and location data from Barcode and RFID labels and tags.

CATS Mobile Interface

*Note: It is important to speak with an experienced team to learn which technology will best fit your application and environment to solve your asset tracking and visibility issues.

Q: What other ERP, Inventory, or Warehouse software systems does your solution communicate?

A: The CDO solution can connect to any ERP system, inventory, or warehouse management systems. CDO can even communicate to home grown ERP systems. CDO software developers will talk to your team to identify the data that needs shared. Then develop an API (Application Programming Interface) or code to allow the software to communicate.

ERP infographic

Business Case

Q: We have many issues tracking stuff, how do you know where to start?

A: All clients we work with have this problem. There are likely ten different issues that are causing problems in your operations. Keep it simple…what is the problem that is keeping you up at night? What is the problem that is impacting the most people? Ultimately, what is the problem that is costing you the most money? This is your Primary Issue.

We want to work on the Primary Issue because that will give us a significant Return on Investment (ROI) when we solve the issue. I’m sure you know, if an issue is only costing you $10K/year, your leadership team doesn’t get too excited. But if you have an issue that is costing you $100K/year then you’ll get your leadership’s attention.

Performing a Cost Analysis of your issues is a mandatory step to identify your Primary Issue. Completing that step will identify where to start.

Q: What is the cost of a typical Asset Tracking Solution?

A: The quick answer is $10,000 – $100,000. But, you’re asking the wrong question. The correct question is: what is the cost (daily, weekly, and yearly) when I misplace an asset, produce the wrong part, or ship to the wrong customer.

We understand the investment must provide value. The Return on Investment (ROI) must be greater than the price of the Asset Tracking Solution. The key is performing a COST Analysis of your issues or business operations. If your issues are costing $50,000/year, your Asset Tracking Solution needs to solve your issues for $50,000 or less so you have a positive ROI.

CATS Location Screen

If you have more questions or would like to further discuss your unique challenges, please schedule an appointment.