One of the strengths of RFID technology is that it can take the place of inefficient and time-consuming manual processes in order to save time, automate identification, capture data, interact with objects, and/or increase data accuracy. The enhanced visibility that RFID provides is unprecedented and can drastically change a company’s perspective on their processes.
For some companies, the need for RFID technology is present and realized; however, due to the upfront cost and time-extensive testing and deployment process, it is not feasible. In addition to RFID’s startup costs and deployment time, many companies are hesitant to change their current processes because of how such a drastic change would affect their company.
Though RFID technology is often advertised as a superior replacement for manual processes like asset and inventory management, RFID does not have to completely replace preexisting processes, like barcodes. Like most technological advances, the change could be executed gradually over time, or the two technologies could work together to provide a more robust solution.
Below are a few specific scenarios for why and how Barcodes and RFID can work together to benefit a company.
Four Examples of When Barcodes & RFID Can Co-exist Harmoniously
1. When Other Parts of the Supply Chain or Logistics Process Aren’t Ready to Make the Switch.
Any company that is part of a supply chain or a complex logistics process probably understands the difficulty of attempting to implement large process changes. This is especially true when the proposed change would impact how products are identified and managed.
In cases where one company or segment of the supply chain is looking to automate manual processes like item identification, inventory tracking, order/shipment verification, or logistics - a joint RFID and barcodes system could be the solution. In this situation, when products arrive to a company tagged only with barcode labels, either RFID tags are placed on individual items in addition to the barcode, or traditional paper barcode labels are replaced by duplicate barcodes printed on RFID printable labels.
By doing this, companies that choose to automate their processes with RFID can reap all the benefits of RFID technology without disturbing the entire supply chain. Read about RFID’s benefits here .
2. When Your Company Has More Than One Process to Automate, and the Same Solution Doesn’t Work for Both.
When companies outgrow manual processes and need to implement automation in multiple places or multiple applications, one solution isn’t always going to fit all use-cases. For example, a company may want to automate shipment receiving and inventory management, but the shipment receiving area is full of metal infrastructure and machinery and the stray RF reads cannot be mitigated. In this case, barcode labels can be scanned to receive all inventory items, and the barcode scans can be uploaded into a system. When the WMS or other warehouse system receives the incoming inventory barcode scans, custom software can be used to create a list of the new barcodes and export that list to an RFID label printer . Then, once the products are transferred to the stock/inventory warehouse, they can immediately be tagged with duplicate barcodes on printed RFID labels .
In the inventory warehouse, RFID works well and provides the company with 99.9% inventory accuracy, quick inventory picking functionality, automated order verification, and, upon shipment, the system reads the packaged items leaving the facility. In this case, RFID cannot be used for shipment receiving because it was tested and produced unreliable results due to multipath effects , which leaves this application’s automation solution to barcodes. In this scenario, together RFID and barcodes create a full solution that is both effective and efficient.
3. When Your Company Needs a Slow, Gradual Switch.
Many companies do not have either the upfront capital or time to convert a large group of assets or inventory items from barcode labels to RFID. In these cases, a gradual change from barcodes to RFID is recommended in order for a company to adopt RFID at their own pace. This can be accomplished by selecting a test group of items and tagging each product with an RFID label that has a duplicate barcode printed on the face. The RFID label with the printed barcode can then replace the paper barcode label on the product for all items in the selected group.
Using a purchased or leased RFID handheld reader with barcode scanning functionality, the company can compare the speed, accuracy, and read distance of RFID versus barcodes without committing to a full system deployment. In addition to the issues of time or capital, some companies are hesitant to trust new technology, and prefer to keep using technology they are comfortable with, like barcodes. With the option of keeping barcode technology and scanning abilities, while simultaneously testing a new technology like RFID, a company can take the time they need to develop trust in a new system, see the benefits, and invest at their own pace.
4. When Your Company Wants Failsafe Measures.
Some companies that use an RFID printer to print a 2D or 3D barcode on their printable RFID labels do this for redundancy measures. The integration of RFID and Barcodes for redundancy purposes is chosen by some as a precautionary failsafe. In the rare case that an RFID tag fails or is broken, the barcode is then used to identify the item until the RFID tag can be replaced.
Most often, redundancy barcoding is implemented in customer-facing application because the items are handled extremely frequently by all types of consumers. For example, a company that sells shoes uses a hanging RFID label with a printed barcode located on the outside of each shoe. After frequent handling, one tag is damaged and unreadable. Because the tag is identifiable by RFID and barcodes, the employee can still identify the exact shoe with the printed barcode. Once the shoe is identified, a duplicate barcode can be printed on a new RFID label and reattached to the shoe.
For more information on using RFID and Barcodes together, or to talk to someone about a specific application for both RFID and barcodes, contact us or comment below.
Thank you to our partner, Zebra Technologies, for all the help on this article. For more information on RFID & Barcodes, checkout the links below.