What advantages does RFID radio technology have over barcodes? This question has also been on the agenda of intralogistics for some time now. In principle, more information is available with the conventional use of RFID. Moreover, logistics and production processes can be optimized faster and more quickly through the active exchange of information by RFID transponders. Radio transmission via RFID technology ensures that, for example, the information flow accompanying the material (inventory management) is compared with other, usually higher-level systems without any time delay.

With Industry 4.0 or the Internet of Things (IoT), the automatic control and recording or tracking of products throughout their entire life cycle are accelerated. In order to be able to track products seamlessly and in “real-time”, retailers, production and logistics increasingly rely on RFID technology. Radio technology is particularly suitable for a continuous flow of information, i.e. when information is picked up automatically. However, this requires an active transponder deployment. They transmit and receive simultaneously and exchange information permanently with transceiver units. In many cases, the latter are already connected with a warehouse management system, an ERP system or, directly at the point of sale (PoS), with a commercial system.

Expectations of RFID technology

  • Accelerate processes
  • Simplify processes
  • Increase in performance/throughput
  • Minimize read errors
  • Information content, improve information flow
  • Increase transparency

Decisive advantages of RFID technology are:

  • Contactless identification (also without visual contact)
  • Transmitting and receiving signals penetrate various materials (cardboard, wood, plastic, clothing)
  • The transponder can be read out and written to
  • In some cases, the detection of RFID-equipped objects is up to 20 times faster than the barcode.
  • Simultaneous detection of many transponders (bulk detection)
  • The shape and size of the transponder can be adjusted in some cases.
  • Transponders can be implemented directly into the product
  • High security through copy protection
  • Encryption of information
  • Data can be stored directly on the chip – no external database required
  • The reading of an RFID tag is possible even in case of contamination
  • The placement of the object to be captured is less problematic compared to the barcode. It is sufficient if the object is within the read distance of the data entry unit.

Barcode and RFID: two technologies, one intralogistics world

In the future, modern and future-proof logistics projects will require a great deal of information about the product itself, the current product status, product quality and process progress. A decisive advantage of RFID is that information can be carried directly on the product and supplemented in the process flow. This means that the information does not have to be sent in parallel, as in the case of barcodes, for example by means of notification, and stored in a database. Rather, all information can be stored and retrieved on the RFID tag independently of the system and, if necessary, taken over by the system intended for this purpose. The system mentioned above must, however, be able to interpret and read the data structure.

Another advantage of RFID tags is their ability to detect environmental influences or physical quantities (environmental measurement). For example, vibrations and temperatures can be measured, stored and read out. For this purpose, the tags are equipped with additional components, so-called sensors (Sensor-RFID). For example, if goods have to be transported within a defined cold chain, the RFID tag uses sensors to store any temperature deviations. They are either transmitted to the recipient during transport via a mobile phone interface or read out directly at goods receipt. In extreme cases, the recipient could reject delivered goods before storage due to the so-called “break in the transport chain”.

Bar code and its authorization

Nevertheless, barcode technology will continue to be used in many areas in the future. For example, the GS1 barcode standard allows the barcode and the associated data (batch/batch number, expiry date, item description, transport unit, identification and classification number, lot number and net weight, etc.) to be recorded without errors. In addition, most distribution centres use barcodes to control storage location management and picking, regardless of the degree of automation. Reason: In storage bin management and picking, much usually revolves around acknowledgement after the item has been removed and about the marriage of storage bins to the stored goods. On the one hand, the read confirmation or the confirmation after the scan, both of which are not generally supported by RFID tags, are important aspects for the use of barcode technology. On the other hand, the more cost-effective barcode as a data carrier medium, including the required hardware (scanner) is likely to continue to be an important argument for many logistics planners. Otherwise, not only would each product have to be equipped with a more expensive RFID tag, but the storage location would also have to be equipped with the radio standard.

Important: In the meantime, HD barcodes are being used more and more frequently. They have a storage capacity of over 700 kilobytes. In contrast to the RFID tag, however, the stored information cannot be read out completely by every scanner.

In practice, barcodes are identified with a numerical sequence of numbers in addition to the code. If the barcode is not readable, the combination of numbers provides an additional means of identification. In the case of a defective RFID transponder, on the other hand, the goods become nameless and addressless.

If you are interested in labelling stored goods, please read the detailed article on stock management.

Image source: © Felix Pergande – Fotolia.com

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