Barcode and RFID Technology: The Essential Guide
Barcode technology has become essential to a wide array of industries, from manufacturing and field mobility, to healthcare and education. Recently RFID technology has become more accessible, and is used almost as widely as its barcode counterpart. It’s clear why barcode and RFID technology use is so widespread—data collection is a vital part of many operations, and investing in data capturing technology is important for ensuring your operations are streamlined, on-time, and accurate.
Depending on your operation, you may find one form offers more benefits and is better equipped to meet your individual needs than the other, but technology is complex and multi-faceted. It can be difficult to understand the nuances of barcode and RFID technology, and how each can best serve your application.
Here is a detailed overview to help guide you through the process of choosing the best solution for your operation:
Barcode Scanning Technologies
Barcode scanners are essential data capturing devices used for automatic identification via barcode labels. Traditionally, barcode scanners have been used to identify inventory and assets, but the reach of barcode scanning technology is spreading.
Barcodes are now being utilized in healthcare and hospital settings to identify patients and medication, transportation industries for rental cars and airline luggage, and even entertainment venues for barcode ticket scanning. For industrial and manufacturing settings, barcode scanners are used to identify and track products, shipping and receiving, inventory operations, and more.
There are three different types of barcode scanners:
- Linear imager
- 2D area imagers
Laser scanners are well-known and affordable, but are limited in their ability since they can only read 1D barcodes. The same goes for linear imagers. Only 2D area imagers can read both 1D and 2D barcodes, and are more flexible intelligent in their data capture abilities.
Types of barcode scanners include:
- General purpose scanners
- Rugged barcode scanners
- Ring scanners
- Kiosk scanners
- Fixed mount barcode scanners
- Companion barcode scanners
1D vs. 2D Barcodes
There are two main types of barcodes: 1D and 2D. Depending on the application, you may find that one is better suited for your needs than the other.
These are best for identifying items listed within a database, like the UPC codes found on products in a grocery store’s inventory. These are linear barcodes, which are read horizontally and have a limited amount of information they can contain.
These are more complex, utilizing patterns and shapes to encode data. Though the amount of data in 2D barcodes is significantly larger, the barcodes themselves are often smaller than 1D barcodes. Because data is encoded in both vertical and horizontal patterns, these barcodes are considered two-dimensional.
2D Barcode Technology
The use of 2D barcodes has been quickly rising in popularity. This is likely because of the increased data that can be encoded in 2D barcodes, but there are many other reasons for this shift:
- Scanners can read damaged 2D barcodes better than damaged 1D barcodes.
- 2D barcodes are multi-directional, so labels don’t need to be properly aligned to be scanned.
- Most 2D barcode scanners can also read 1D barcodes, eliminating the need for two different scanners.
- 2D barcode images can be smaller in size and can easily fit on smaller assets.
- 2D barcodes have enhanced ranges and can be read from farther away.
Furthermore, this technology provides more flexibility and greater value, and 2D image scanners are more accessible than before.
If your application relies on mobility within operations, you may require a cordless model, which utilizes Bluetooth or wireless signals to transmit information. Other applications may need corded scanners that connect through a cord to a computer interface.
With the harsh environments barcode technology is often used in, it’s critical that devices are rugged enough to withstand drops to hard floors, extreme temperatures, water, dust, and more. If you operate in any industrial setting, rugged options are built to last in any environment, and can provide a greater ROI.
RFID – or radio frequency identification – is newer than barcode identification. While RFID is not as widely used as barcodes, it has recently been adopted by more and more operations now that the cost of RFID solutions has dropped and it is more affordable. RFID provides more value through better accuracy, easier data management, and faster throughput, as well as increased security.
Popular applications include tracking items for manufacturing and retail operations, transportation and logistics, healthcare and hospital settings, educational institutions, and more.
Common types of RFID technology include:
RFID vs. Barcode
Barcode and RFID are both useful for data capture and asset tracking, though your operation may find a greater ROI with one or the other. The effectiveness of these solutions can be determined by the value of the items you are tracking.
RFID is ideal when the value of the item being tracked is greater than the RFID tag itself. The more valuable the item, the more advantageous RFID is because of the added security and accuracy it provides. Inversely, if the value of the item being tracked is comparable to or less than the RFID tag itself, barcode technology is an optimal solution.
Many different industries depend on reliable supply chain operations. Therefore, each link within the supply chain must have reliable barcode and RFID technology.
When automating a new warehouse, the technology you need will depend on many factors, such as your warehouse labeling needs, wireless coverage, mobile workstation requirements, etc. The right barcode and RFID scanners greatly improve inventory visibility within warehouse operations, and are valuable tools that help increase efficiency. Scanners come in a variety form factors to suit your operation.
Industrial mobile warehouse devices
While barcode scanning and data capturing capabilities are available on consumer-grade devices, industrial mobile warehouse devices are much better suited for warehouse operations for many reasons:
- Industrial mobile warehouse solutions are designed from the ground up for critical warehouse tasks.
- Industrial devices can withstand harsh warehouse environments.
- Industrial devices provide better control and security.
- Many different form factors are available for every warehouse task.
- Industrial devices have extended battery lives and can last for entire shifts.
Battling harsh conditions
Warehouses are utilized in many areas with extreme climates, which require rugged, durable devices that can withstand extreme temperatures. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in cold storage warehouses, which are kept at freezing temperatures year-round. Cold air, condensation, and frost can render standard devices useless, or erode battery performance over time. As such, cold storage devices are necessary for withstanding these environments.
These devices include features like:
- Moisture protection
- Low-impedance lithium-ion batteries
- Protective coatings
- Stronger peripheral connections
- Larger keypads
If you aren’t sure which features you need, you can rely on the expertise of your technology solutions provider to guide you.
RFID in manufacturing
- No need to establish a line of site
- Easily rewrite or modify tag data
- Streamline asset tracking
- Enhance supply chain visibility
- Conduct inventory counts easier
- Cost savings for dual data capture
- Could cost more for inexpensive finished products
- Most trading partners aren’t using RFID
- RFID is more complex than barcodes
- More data to manage
IoT in manufacturing
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the network of everyday “smart” devices and objects that connect to the internet and interact, collect, and share data with one another. In a manufacturing setting, IoT offers many benefits, including greater visibility, improved accuracy, and workforce optimization.
Manufacturing businesses can utilize a combination of RFID, barcoding, real-time location data, and wireless networking to streamline operations and optimize the supply chain.
More benefits of IoT in manufacturing include:
- Increased efficiency
- Streamlined inventory management
- Effective asset maintenance
- Better workforce management
- Enhanced field service operations
The use of barcode and RFID technology in field mobility applications is prevalent and advantageous across the board. Advanced data capture technology eliminates manual data entry and the reliance on paperwork, allowing field service workers to complete shipments faster, more efficiently, and more accurately. This technology also provides extensive real-time visibility into operations.
Data capture technology in field mobility improves operations in a number of areas:
- It increases accuracy by eliminating errors from manual data entry and record keeping.
- It provides real-time access to critical shipment and delivery data.
- It streamlines field service workflow and improves customer service.
- It reduces labor expenses by automating data capture and saving time.
- It simplifies workforce management by providing data on performance metrics.
With healthcare professionals frequently asked to work 24-hour shifts, human error is a consistent issue in the healthcare industry. Patient identification errors contribute to a large number of inaccurate records, resulting in surgical mistakes, transfusion mix-ups, and more.
Barcode technology has made great strides in improving patient care with barcode wristbands that can easily be scanned to provide accurate and reliable patient identification. These wristbands can be issued upon patient arrival, and can be utilized throughout the process to improve patient safety. Furthermore, healthcare providers can devote more time to patient care and less time to manual data entry.
Professional Services and Repair
How to Get the Most out of Your Warehouse Technology
Barcode and RFID technology is a large investment, so it’s worth taking necessary measures to ensure you get the best return. Printers, scanners, mobile computers, and any other devices used in your operations must be well-maintained in order to maximize the life of the device.
Some steps you can take to get the most out of your technology include:
- Choosing the right hardware for your application.
- Training your employees to properly care for and use the hardware.
- Performing regular maintenance.
- Keeping your warehouse technology clean.
- Following the charging and battery care recommendations for your mobile device.
- Keeping software and firmware up-to-date.
Additionally, it’s advisable to invest in a maintenance contract, which can prevent downtime from inoperable devices. With a good maintenance contract, you receive access to a skilled team of technical support specialists that can handle troubleshooting, repairs, upgrades, and technical support.
Professional Services to Keep Your Supply Chain Running
With all the technology solutions and systems warehouses utilize to carry out day-to-day operations, it’s difficult to ensure optimal performance from your investment. Professional services provided by your value-added reseller or integrator can provide keep your technology running smoothly.
Professional services can include:
- Wireless site surveys
- Mobility implementation services
- Mobile device management
- Wireless site certification
- Mobile device health assessments
Services like these can help provide a better and more reliable ROI by helping you plan, deploy, maintain, and update your supply chain technology so it can operate to its full potential.
Choosing a Solutions Partner
Barcode and RFID technology are critical components of a successful, optimized industrial application. As such, solutions and providers should be carefully researched and vetted to ensure you are getting the best for your operation.
Miles Data has been a leading provider of barcode and RFID technology for over 30 years. With our extensive knowledge and expertise, we can understand your needs and identify solutions that can help improve your operations and increase your bottom line. We work closely with our clients throughout every stage of the process, from product selection and testing to deployment, training, and ongoing technical support. Our clients have come to rely on our extensive knowledge and dexterity to help them solve problems and expand their operations.
Interested in learning more about barcode and RFID technology for your operation? Contact us today.