Automation solutions, such as an RFID inventory system, ASRS, and mobile dimensioning, are popular ways to increase efficiency in a company’s supply chain. RFID, or radio-frequency identification, uses a tag or label encoded with digital data to be captured through radio waves.
This article will discuss the differences between barcode scanning and RFID, use cases for RFID, when RFID isn’t necessary, and how barcode scanning and RFID work together.
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Both RFID inventory systems and barcode scanning capture inventory information quickly and accurately. While similar in purpose, their functions differ greatly.
What Is Barcode Scanning?
Barcode scanning is a method of data capture that uses handheld barcode scanners paired with 1d or 2d labels to transmit data instantly to the system of record. This type of data capture is widely used across industries, offering an affordable solution that supports many different warehouse functions including receiving, putaway, picking, counting, and more.
What Is an RFID Scanner?
RFID does not need line of sight to scan and capture inventory data. For example, users can scan pallets of inventory data using a handheld RFID scanner without having to see a barcode label.There are many different sizes and types of RFID (most common being passive and active). Regardless of which type of tag is used, they are placed in or on inventory items and transmit data using RFID readers, including metric RFID scanners, towers, portals, gates, or wands.
Where Does RFID Fit?
There are many types of inventory transactions in which RFID’s hands-off data transmission can be beneficial in streamlining your inventory control. The best use cases for RFID inventory systems are:
HIGH-VALUE ITEMS: Portal RFID scanners can be placed at the exits of a store or warehouse facility to prevent shoplifting and decrease the instances of high value item theft. RFID tags for inventory can be placed on a pallet, case, or the item itself to provide visibility into each item location.
MANUFACTURING:RFID scanner devices can track finished goods from manufacturing to the dock doors. Some companies use RFID inventory processes connected to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) to trigger a variety of actions as an item moves throughout the manufacturing process.
COUNTING: With RFID, tagged items are scanned as a user waves an RF handheld scanning device or a long-range RFID scanner over an area. RFID scanning captures tags that could be hidden from view inside of a box.
Challenges of RFID
While many different types of customers can use RFID, there are some factors that should be considered before investing in the solution. Below are a few of the use cases in which RFID may not be necessary for your warehouse:
PICKING: Although there are many inventory transactions that can be completed using RFID, picking is not recommended. The strength of RFID is to capture high levels of data in wide areas, making it less efficient for single units for precise picking. To accurately pick products to fulfill an order, you will need to use a warehouse management system (WMS) that enables barcode scanning on the warehouse floor.
MATERIAL CONSIDERATIONS: While RFID can work with a wide variety of materials, certain types of stock are not able to be accurately and consistently captured by the RFID portals. Some materials can interrupt the signal between the RFID portal and tags, leading to inaccurate or incomplete data transmissions back to the system of record. Examples of hard-to-read materials are below:
RFID Blocking Materials
FAILURE TO CAPTURE: Since RFID systems rely solely on the network connection between the RFID tags and the RFID scanners themselves, data disruptions are bound to happen. To mitigate this risk and its potential impact to efficiency, many RFID users leverage a barcode scanning system in tandem to ensure full traceability when these interruptions occur.
PRICE: RFID can be costly. Regardless of the RFID tag reader and tags purchased, businesses will need to ensure they have the proper software to transmit the RFID data back to the system of record. This adds another level of cost to an already significant investment.
SECURITY CONCERNS: RFID tag data can be transmitted at a distance, which leaves warehouse information susceptible to potential security breaches or interference. Due to this increased risk, those using RFID must ensure their infrastructure is consistently receiving regular software and hardware maintenance checks.
Pairing Barcode Scanning and RFID
As you evaluate different methods of data collection, you must determine how that data is connected to your system of record. Using an inventory management software solution will allow you to directly transmit your barcode or RFID handheld scanner data into your ERP.
Many companies leverage both barcode scanning and RFID inventory systems together in their facilities. This acts as a failsafe for businesses who want to leverage automation while ensuring accurate data transactions in their supply chain. In either case, adding automation to your supply chain allows your business to get the most updated inventory data in real-time while improving your warehouse efficiency.
Talk with RF-SMART’s supply chain experts today to determine how you can improve your warehouse efficiency with automation.