Before we get into the advantages of radio frequency identification (RFID) over traditional barcode technology, let’s do a quick overview of both:
Barcodes are a series of machine-readable, parallel black bars that represent identification information. The information is encoded by varying the widths of the bars and the distances of the spaces between each bar. An optical barcode scanner then translates the information for further interpretation.
RFID products use unique radio waves to communicate information. Typical industrial RFID systems consist of an RFID reader (head), RFID interface (controller), and RFID tags (transponders).
RFID systems can be either active or passive. Active RFID tags are less common in applications. They contain a battery and periodically transmit information with much greater range than passive tags. Passive tags are more common. These tags are powered by electromagnetic induction via the RFID reader. Once the tag is powered by the reader, it responds by transmitting its unique information.
In the past, industrial RFID was often overlooked due to price concerns. But today, the difference in the cost between RFID and barcode systems has been reduced. With the increased efficiency and reduction of errors, it doesn’t take long for a typical RFID system to pay for itself.
Here are reasons to consider RFID for your application:
- RFID does not require line of sight to read the tag. Since detection is based on radio waves, RFID can operate at greater distances. In barcode solutions, scanners must be aligned perfectly with the barcode at close distance.
- RFID tags have read/write capability—they can be rewritten or modified as needed. Once barcodes have been printed, they can’t be modified. Also, with RFID tags, it’s possible to store a large amount of information on a single tag.
- RFID is better suited to harsh environments. Most RFID tags are protected by a layer of plastic.
- RFID has a great read rate and reliability. For example, on a conveyer line, RFID can easily track the number of items that pass through, one or multiple at a time.
- RFID offers higher security; data can be encrypted, password protected, or set to include a ‘kill’ feature to remove data permanently.
- Most RFID systems can be set up to be completely automated, with minimal human interaction required.
There are many more advantages that have not been covered, but hopefully this list will give you a head start when considering RFID for future applications.