Skip to Main Content
menu
Bulk Order Pad
Enter Brady part #'s below:
Ex: BMP71, 99048, CPT-PRP-25PL-KD
 
Correct or remove product #s that can't be found.

Labels

Printers

Lockout Tagout

Software

Signs

Pipe & Valve

Tags

Absorbents

Resources

Support

 
 

RFID vs. barcode for asset tracking:
How to make the right choice for your business

From consumer products and food packaging to pipe fittings and hazardous material containers, just about everything has some sort of label affixed to it that contains important information that buyers, sellers or manufacturers need to be aware of. Most of us are familiar with barcodes and QR codes, but the technology that goes into them may come as a surprise.

It’s essential to understand the differences between barcode labels (affixed to a surface) and tags (attached to an asset) and the devices that “read” them because how they will be used—the what, why, when and where—make a big difference. Both barcode and RFID readers are used in integrated intelligent manufacturing solutions. Barcodes often serve to identify the location of production orders, input inventory quantities of raw materials, and help signal the completion of finished goods. RFID can perform similar functions, but eliminates the human element, improving accuracy and automating the scan.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that we are talking about asset tracking, not inventory tracking. They are not the same thing. Asset tracking is the ability to locate an asset (where it is or where it most recently was) and use that information to perform a function or provide a notification. Inventory tracking is the monitoring of the volume of many of the same items, like the number of XL white T-shirts in stock.

In this blog, we’ll go over:

  • How asset tracking can be used
  • Basic differences between RFID reader and barcode scanner technologies
  • What to consider when choosing between the two
  • Types of labels and tags used with barcode scanners and RFID readers + use cases
  • Types of barcode scanners and RFID readers + use cases
  • What barcode scanner and RFID reader software can do for your business

Brady Corporation offers a wide array of asset tracking hardware, software and services, and one of our specialists can help you decide which system will best meet your needs.

How asset tracking can be used

There are many uses for asset tracking. We won’t go into detail on all of them, but here are a few that can get you started thinking about how you can use barcode readers and/or RFID (short for radio frequency identification) scanners in your business:

  • Tracking high value assets that tend to get lost, misplaced or stolen
  • Tracking assets that get put together but whose components aren’t stored together
  • Keeping assets that should NEVER go together well apart from each other (e.g., hazardous materials)
  • Ensuring assets that are sensitive to environmental conditions remain safe
  • Shipping notifications when items pass a particular point
  • Tracking down assets when a defect is identified, or a recall is issued

RFID reader vs. barcode scanner technology: basic differences

RFID reader and optical barcode scanner technologies can both help a company improve productivity, performance, compliance, safety and security through asset tracking. Here are some of the basic differences between the two technologies.

 

Barcode icon 

Barcode scanner

  • Scan labels individually
  • Printed on paper or adhesive
  • Scanner requires direct line of sight to label
  • Stores a limited amount of information
  • Data is not encrypted
  • Read-only functionality
  • Generally less expensive than RFID
  • Barcodes can be easily copied
  • Technology standardized worldwide
RFID icon 

RFID reader

  • Scan multiple tags at once
  • Printed using sturdy, reusable materials
  • Can be read at a distance or through objects
  • Can store complex information
  • Data can be encrypted for security purposes
  • Read and write (encoding) functionality
  • Generally more expensive than barcode
  • Can be complex to install/integrate

Labels vs. tags

Labels are used for one-to-one tracking—you physically scan one label, and you know you’ve only scanned one label. With RFID tags, you’re able to scan many items in seconds (a whole pallet in 30 seconds or so in many cases). In short, barcode is best when you want one-to-one accuracy, and RFID is better for inventory applications.

Choosing the right barcode scanner or RFID reader technology for your application

Optical barcode scanner and RFID reader technologies can both help a company improve productivity, performance, compliance, safety and security through asset tracking, but there are distinct differences that require consideration before choosing one or the other. Among the considerations:

  • The technology you already have in use
  • The material or asset the label/tag will be affixed or attached to
  • The physical environment the asset will be exposed to
  • How the asset will be handled and how long it will be used
  • How much/what type of information needs to be embedded in the tag itself
  • Whether there are industry regulations you must comply with

Types of labels and tags used with barcode scanners and RFID readers

There are hundreds of different types of labels and tags that can be used with barcode readers and RFID scanners, each with its own advantages and limitations. Choosing the right one for the application at hand depends on several factors, including:

  • Material composition – the type of material the label or tag is being affixed to
  • Surface shape – the shape of the asset, e.g., curved, flat, pebbled, smooth, etc.
  • Environmental conditions – some must be able to withstand harsh conditions such as chemicals, high temperatures and abrasion
  • Handling – how the asset will be handled as it is moved from place to place
  • Compliance standards – some regulatory bodies dictate what type of information is required
  • Information required – some assets just need an identifier and price, while others require more information
  • Printing equipment – the type of label maker being used for printing labels or tags
A collage of different types of labels

As an example, here are three very different use cases that would require completely different approaches to each factor identified above:

  Edible Produce Circuit Board Caustic Material
Material Food Epoxy Resin Non-corrosive barrel
Shape Uneven Flat Curved
Environment Temperature-controlled Heat-producing, solvents Outdoors
Handling Picked up individually During manufacturing/repair Cautiously moved/stored
Compliance None MIL-STD-202G Hazmat
Information Type, price, lot Model number, manufacturer Safe handling, compliance info
Printing Handheld portable printer Industrial THT label printer Industrial THT label printer or Industrial InkJet for barrell labels
Label/tag characteristics Food-grade adhesive, easy to remove, flexible Abrasion-Resistant, Chemical-Resistant, Corrosion-Resistant, Humidity Resistant, UV-Resistant Harsh environment, OSHA regulations, permanent

Types of barcode scanners and RFID readers

A collage of different types of scanners

There are also many different kinds of optical barcode scanners and RFID readers, most of which fall into the categories of handheld or fixed (like those that you find in retail self-checkout kiosks). Optical barcode scanners use a beam of light to “read” the barcode printed on a label or tag. RFID readers pull data from RFID chips embedded in them via radio waves. Obviously, which type you choose depends on whether you’re using barcode or RFID technology, but there are other considerations as well, including:

  • Read range – how far away the asset will be from the reader or scanner
  • Read speed – how many assets will be scanned/read and how quick
  • Location density – how many assets will be within “reading” distance and how close together they will be
  • Label/tag location – affixed or attached inside or outside of an asset, wrapped around something, etc.
  • Asset orientation – pertaining to how the asset will be moved and/or stored
  • Barcode type – 1 dimension (1D) flat barcode, 2D QR code, 3D barcode
  Grocery Store Checkout Storage Warehouse Manufacturing Line
Read Range Centimeters Feet Varies
Read speed One at a time, fairly slow Slow Fast
Location density Single Tightly packed, lots and singles Close
Label/tag location Affixed exterior Varies Varies
Asset orientation Turned to face reader/scanner Stored to face reader/scanner Varies
Barcode Type 1D 1D and 2D 1D, 2D, DPM
Possible solution Low Cost Optics packages integrated into check-out kiosks. Rolling shutter. Mobile handheld scanner. Either dedicated device tethered to mobile computer, or mobile device (e.g. phone / tablet). Rolling Shutter. Industrial ruggedized handheld and fixed readers. Rolling and Global Shutter for high-speed applications.

The software

The barcode reader or RFID scanner sends information back to a database, and from there the choice of software dictates what happens. It varies by application. For instance, the software may send a message if an asset is in an area it’s not supposed to be in, automatically update the location within the database, then prompt a user to take an action. At the other end of the spectrum, software can dictate how your data is reported so you can use it to make relevant business decisions.

BLOG

Read More about Intelligent Manufacturing Transformation

RFID asset tracking chip

RFID asset tracking: what it is and how it works

Better decision-making starts with quality, data-driven insights. And a great way to see the big picture is with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. With it, businesses can monitor an asset’s location and gain control over important revenue-generating processes. Efficient and cost-effective, RFID technology has become the go-to tracking system for industries worldwide.
READ MORE 
Two manufacturing employees discussing a problem 

IT/OT Convergence 101

Bridging the gap between physical and digital capabilities in manufacturing environments creates a significant competitive advantage. This convergence will displace companies that don’t embrace it, but many are behind. While there are challenges that must be overcome to bring the two together, the risk of not doing so is quite real—especially when competitors are making the leap.
READ MORE

Find out more about what goes into choosing the right asset tracking system: the consultative process, the pre-implementation phase and training best practices.

We’ll help you choose the right barcode scanner and/or RFID reader technology

The barcode reader or RFID scanner sends information back to a database, and from there the choice of software dictates what happens. It varies by application. For instance, the software may send a message if an asset is in an area it’s not supposed to be in, automatically update the location within the database, then prompt a user to take an action. At the other end of the spectrum, software can dictate how your data is reported so you can use it to make relevant business decisions.

Success

{{itemAddedCount}} item added to cart.

{{itemAddedCount}} items added to cart.

Cart Subtotal ({{totalItemCount}}): {{subtotal}}
View Cart
Products Added
QTY
Price
{{item.DisplayName}}
{{item.CustomerSpecificDisplayName || item.DisplayName}}
{{item.CustomerSpecificDisplayName || item.DisplayName}}
{{item.DisplayName}}
Part Number: {{item.CatalogNumber}}
Your Part Number: {{item.CustomerSpecificCatalogNumber}}

Thou shalt ship ship by ground only

test
QTY: {{item.ProductQuantity}}
QTY: {{item.Quantity}}
Price: {{item.FormattedProductPrice}}

Sorry, there was a problem adding your item. Please try again.