Barcode or RFID for Inventory and Equipment Tracking?

Should you choose barcodes or RFID for equipment tracking?  If you are looking at automating your inventory and equipment tracking, one of your key decisions is how will you collect tracking data into your software?  Below is a sampling of some of the variables that one might ask to come up with the right solution for their specific application–however we recommend you bring in an expert at some point in time to validate and/or help with final solution.

  • Indoor or Outdoor –    If inventory and equipment tracking is outdoor and it’s not something you want to track with GPS, than barcode and/or RFID are both good solutions.  However because of the various elements that might obstruct the reading of a barcode, RFID for outdoor applications is often a great solution (see our RFID FAQ).  If the equipment we’re tracking is indoors, than barcode technology and RFID technology will work, however if you do not have easy “visible” access to the barcode and/or the barcode has been defaced, then surely RFID is the only solution.
  • RFID Range – How close do I need to be in order hear an RFID Tag?  This depends on whether we’re using “short range” RFID technology (see our RFID FAQ), or “long range” RFID technology.  With short range technology you can read from very close (inches) to many feet–good example would be anywhere from 10 to 30 feet (and in some cases beyond).  However, with long range networks you can see RFID tags up to 1,600 feet (sometimes beyond) in open space.
  • Real Time and/or Batch – How often do I need to be updated?  How important is it that I know exactly when a piece of equipment is moved. If the equipment you are tracking is of significant value (value being defined not only by “cost”, but also by “mission critical”) then real-time would probably be the right choice.  Essentially what would occur is that as the piece of equipment is seeing by a “fixed” reader (regardless of short range reader or long range reader), than the system would be updated immediately with pertinent data.  If on the other hand the equipment you’re tracking is important but not so important that you need to track it in “Real-Time”, than a batch update would be the right solution.  This is to say that a user would walk around with an RFID enabled portable data terminal (PDT), collect that data which he/she were tasked to collect, find a means of connecting that PDT to their Ethernet backbone, and perform an upload.
  • RTLS or not –  RTLS refers to real time location system.  This is to say that the technology in use can update the system database whether in “real-time” or periodic updates.  There are many different long range RFID Technologies to help “locate” a piece of equipment.  The question is how close do you need the system to get you to the piece of equipment in question?  The closer the technology gets you to the equipment in question, the more the technology cost.

In summary, the use of bar codes or RFID tags for equipment tracking depends on your budget, update frequency and area of coverage.  That decision ultimately rest with you and your solutions integrator.


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