If you search YouTube to a find video that compares barcode to RFID technology, you’ll get numerous links that lead you down many paths. Most of the videos you view illustrate the use of RFID in a business process and explain how RFID outperforms barcode—saving you both time and money. One thing we know for sure is that the truth behind the two technologies is not as simple as what you will see in a three minute video.
Let’s talk about asset tracking, where both barcode and RFID have their advantages. I am not talking about inventorying blue jeans on a retail shelf or tracking the dog that got loose without a collar. I am going to talk about assets such as mission critical tools, vehicles, air craft, ships, machinery, pipes, valves, and spare parts. So, when do you use barcode versus RFID for asset tagging and tracking critical parts and equipment?
The answer lies within your asset’s lifecycle.
Your asset has a lifecycle that’s often referred to as “cradle to grave”. During an asset’s lifecycle, an asset is shipped (sometimes often), used, stored and / or sent for maintenance. During each stage of an asset’s lifecycle, there is a custodian who is accountable for the asset. The implementation and use of automatic identification (Auto ID) technology (barcode or RFID) is critical to the success of that custodian. The custodian might be a warehouse operator who performs an inventory every three months, where the asset’s identification is associated with a storage location. The asset might be a final assembly installed in a remote telecom structure, where a field technician tracks its location. Perhaps they are receiving dock personnel who receive and inspect shipments upon arrival and track their movement from one location to another. Different stages of an asset’s lifecycle and environment can dictate the use of barcode, RFID, or even human readable labels.
Timeliness is critical.
In one example, A2B was asked to consult with a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) organization responsible for maintaining a full inventory of Pelican cases containing CSI equipment. In a CSI environment, equipment has to be mission ready and capable at a moment’s notice. Cameras and forensic tools are stored in a warehouse, waiting to be deployed to the scene of a crime. At the scene of the crime, equipment may be removed from the Pelican case for use—but not all of the equipment may make it back into the right case or any case. Often the case is returned to inventory, only partially stocked. Incorporating RFID technology into an environment that is fast-paced with multiple custodians is a great solution to track assets. Using RFID, the operators can quickly wave a reader over a Pelican case to determine the completeness of the contents, restock the missing items and remove items stored in the wrong case. The use of RFID could save countless hours of unpacking to inspect contents, as compared to a more visually intensive barcode technology.
See it to believe it.
In another example, A2B was called to a military facility that performed wall to wall inventories to track classified equipment. Each time an asset was touched for inventory, a visual inspection of the asset was required. The manual processing of the inventory was extremely time-consuming. The Auto ID technology of choice was 2D barcode because of its lower cost to implement and the simplicity of the tag. A return on investment was realized by the customer through a significant time savings, over the cost of the technology.
Time or cost—you be the judge.
Yes, RFID infrastructure and upfront costs may be higher but you need to look at the big picture and consider all of your requirements. When you select the right technology, the accuracy you require and the time you save should far outweigh your initial investment. So I ask you to consider the stages of your asset’s lifecycle that are the most critical, before choosing right Auto ID technology. Try not to let YouTube persuade you that a silver bullet exists for asset auto identification. Many videos will try.
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