Tracking Methods: Barcodes & RFID

There are many ways to track and trace objects to maintain accurate records on pricing, inventory, and other important business information. Among these are barcodes and RFID.


Barcodes are a standard method of identifying the manufacturer and product category of a particular item. They are comprised of a series of vertical bars of varying widths, each width representing a different digit, zero through nine. Barcodes can be read by a laser scanner, are commonly found on consumer products, and are usually utilized for inventory control.


  • Long-established, easily implemented & understood in production environments.
  • Known to be more accurate and reliable than RFID (due to scanning one at a time opposed to risking scanning more than intended with RFID).
  • Can be manufactured with conventional converting equipment. RFID labels require specialized manufacturing equipment.
  • Typically more durable than RFID labels, which are electrical constructions of more materials each potentially at risk of damage or defects.
  • Relatively inexpensive system for managing inventory and gathering information about a product.


  • One-to-one connectivity; Each item has to be individually scanned.
  • Barcodes give product type information but are unable to locate an object at any given time.



Radio Frequency Identification is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to identify and trace objects. RFID can tell you what an object is, where it is and even its condition. There are 3 frequencies to RFID (low, high, ultra-high) that play an important role in the functionality of this system. Ultra-high frequency can reach up to 30 feet in the right conditions.


  • Uniquely identify an individual item beyond its product type and locate items without direct line-of-sight.
  • Scans multiple items at once allowing for quick scanning up to 1,000 per second.
  • Barriers may be needed within a warehouse setting to prevent scanning across multiple docks or duplicate scans.
  • Automate inventory and asset-tracking.
  • Identify the source of products, enabling intelligent recall of defective or dangerous items.
  • Deter use of counterfeit products in the supply chain.
  • Wirelessly lock, unlock, & configure electronic devices.


  • Cost is the greatest obstacle to implementation.
  • Each RFID tag runs from $1 to $30 per tag and in many cases the readers can cost up to 10x more than conventional barcode scanners.
  • RFID label manufacturing requires more in-process controls to avoid problems and defects, which is costly.
  • Requires much higher levels of planning and commitment to part commissioning, infrastructure, maintenance, & equipment and is often implemented in stages making execution complex and expensive.
  • RFID tags have specific restrictions on the type of materials that they are applied to. For example, Metal may deactivate the antenna and will not transmit.