What are the advantages & disadvantages of RFID over barcode?

Written by britt barclay
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What are the advantages & disadvantages of RFID over barcode?
Bar codes represent data through the spacing between lines and the shapes within the lines. (pencil and barcode image by Anatoly Tiplyashin from Fotolia.com)

RFID stands for radio frequency identification. RFID tags are small objects that emits radio waves. These tags are built into or attached to objects, or even embedded into live animals for identification. The specific waves emitted by each RFID tag are received by a reader, which tracks location, movement and specific information of the object. Bar codes are optical coding that can only be scanned; they also contain product information.

Supply Chain Management

Determining where products are in the supply chain is important to merchandising companies. Locating shipments, monitoring warehouse inventory levels and product movement throughout warehouses and ensuring the shelves of stores are well stocked are all important activities.

It used to be that the bar code of each inventory item had to be counted individually, or the bar code of a group of items needed to be scanned. With the introduction of RFID technology, companies can have a to-the-minute report of inventory levels. This is beneficial because it helps companies manage their inventories, track product shipments and ensure that sufficient product is remaining on the shelves.

Animal Identification

A major benefit of RFID over bar codes is in animal identification. Bar codes are not used on animals; this process would involve tattooing animals, or pinning them with a tag that displayed a bar code. Instead, RFID tags are implanted into the animals in a painless procedure. The RFID reader can then scan the tag, determining important information on the animal.

For domestic pets, this includes their name and the pet owner's name, as well as phone number and street address. Similar RFID tags are available for humans with allergies or other medical conditions, although the practice of having an RFID tag implanted is not common among humans. Livestock such as cattle are tagged with RFID to help in the tracking of diseases, helping to ensure the food supplied by the cattle is safe for consumption.


The major advantage that bar codes have over RFID tags is their price. Labelling objects with bar codes will often cost less than one cent. RFID tags, on the other hand, can cost upwards of 30 cents per object labelled. Corporations that use RFID tags argue that the increased profits and reduced costs gained through the use of RFID tags offset the additional cost incurred per product labelled. The fact remains, however, that until RFID technology is perfected, it will be more cost-effective for most corporations to continue using bar codes for product identification.

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