RFID vs. Barcodes

There are many ways to track and trace objects to maintain accurate records on pricing, inventory, and other important business information. Among these are barcodes and RFID.


Barcodes are a standard method of identifying the manufacturer and product category of a particular item. They are comprised of a series of vertical bars of varying widths, each width representing a different digit, zero through nine. Barcodes can be read by a laser scanner, are commonly found on consumer products, and are usually utilized for inventory control.


  • Long-established, easily implemented & understood in production environments.
  • Known to be more accurate and reliable than RFID (due to scanning one at a time opposed to risking scanning more than intended with RFID).
  • Can be manufactured with conventional converting equipment. RFID labels require specialized manufacturing equipment.
  • Typically more durable than RFID labels, which are electrical constructions of more materials each potentially at risk of damage or defects.
  • Relatively inexpensive system for managing inventory and gathering information about a product.


  • One-to-one connectivity; Each item has to be individually scanned.
  • Barcodes give product type information but are unable to locate an object at any given time.



Radio Frequency Identification is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to identify and trace objects. RFID can tell you what an object is, where it is and even its condition. There are 3 frequencies to RFID (low, high, ultra-high) that play an important role in the functionality of this system. Ultra-high frequency can reach up to 30 feet in the right conditions.


  • Uniquely identify an individual item beyond its product type and locate items without direct line-of-sight.
  • Scans multiple items at once allowing for quick scanning up to 1,000 per second.
  • Barriers may be needed within a warehouse setting to prevent scanning across multiple docks or duplicate scans.
  • Automate inventory and asset-tracking.
  • Identify the source of products, enabling intelligent recall of defective or dangerous items.
  • Deter use of counterfeit products in the supply chain.
  • Wirelessly lock, unlock, & configure electronic devices.


  • Cost is the greatest obstacle to implementation.
  • Each RFID tag runs from $1 to $30 per tag and in many cases the readers can cost up to 10x more than conventional barcode scanners.
  • RFID label manufacturing requires more in-process controls to avoid problems and defects, which is costly.
  • Requires much higher levels of planning and commitment to part commissioning, infrastructure, maintenance, & equipment and is often implemented in stages making execution complex and expensive.
  • RFID tags have specific restrictions on the type of materials that they are applied to. For example, Metal may deactivate the antenna and will not transmit.

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