Cheers to the Barcode!
Let’s take a step back from RFID and pay homage to that which came before – the barcode! Barcodes gained in popularity over 40 years ago and have been the workhorse for product identification ever since. Part of the problem with RFID expectations and adoption rate started with the technology being marketed as a replacement to barcodes rather than a supplement. Couple that with RFID taking shape in its own silo outside of the traditional automated data collection (ADC) market and it is no surprise that we ended up with RFID vs barcode like Ali vs Fraser or Yankees vs Red Sox instead of thinking about barcode and RFID as two stars on the same team.
Barcodes are proven technology. There is a great ecosystem in place to support the deployment of both the labels and the infrastructure. A typical manufacturer or warehouse has plenty of choices and there are lots of good integrators that can successfully complete a project. And let’s not forget that deploying barcodes generates a high return on investment because the technology is relatively inexpensive, but packs a lot of punch in its ability to improve inventory management and traceabililty.
Our philosophy is that every facility would benefit from a combination of barcode and RFID. Most integrators sell either a screwdriver or a hammer. As you would expect, they see every project as screws or nails. To the customer, however, there are just business problems. “We need data on this process” or “we need to find things faster in the warehouse”. The best way to help the customer is to evaluate each problem on its own and determine the best tool for that job. The best tool for “picking” is probably different than the best tool at the dock door. Issuing raw materials to a work order likely needs a different solution than creating finished case records.
The barcode isn’t going away anytime soon and RFID is never going to completely replace it, in our view. To us, barcode and RFID are different tools in the tool box that can make a business run better when applied effectively. We need more integrators that can apply either technology or perhaps more integrators to partner and work together so that the best technology is selected for each individual manufacturer’s challenge.
End customers need to be sure their integrator partner has evaluated both barcode and RFID for suitability and made the best choice for each aspect of the business based on value to the customer – not just because “I sell barcode” or “I sell RFID”. It would be rare for an optimized data collection system to be 100% barcode or 100% RFID.
So let’s toast to the barcode and apply it wisely. Cheers!