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Tracking physical assets: barcodes vs. RFID

Barcode and RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies have streamlined the process of keeping track of computers, office furniture, documents, and other physical assets. Which technology is best?

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  • Written by  Ashley Bray
Tracking physical assets: barcodes vs. RFID

How assets are scanned is one key difference. With a barcode, the scanner needs a line of sight that is only feet away, and each asset must be scanned individually. This can send a person under desks and behind furniture, which can lead to workplace disruptions. With RFID chips, a collection of assets can be read and scanned simultaneously from up to ten feet away.

While RFID scanning is easier, the tags themselves have drawbacks. Whereas a barcode can be placed anywhere, RFID tags need a layer between the tag itself and a metal surface. These special tags can range between $2.50 to $3.00 apiece. The typical cost of even a basic RFID tag, 15 to 30 cents, is still higher than the half-penny cost of a barcode.

The high price of RFID chips may dictate what type of assets they are used to track. This technology is ideal for fixed and high-value assets, but not for quantity-based document tracking, where the cost of the tags makes the process illogical. “I would recommend barcode for documents because, physically, you have to hand the documents to somebody, and you have to pick one at a time, so it’s very easy to have a line of sight and scan the barcode,” says Elie Jean Touma, president and CEO of ASAP Systems, a provider of asset-tracking solutions.

Banks may not need to choose one over the other, because some scanners can read both RFID and barcode tags.

Typically, mid-size banks choose this hybrid solution, notes Touma. Larger banks with more than five branches and over 3,000 fixed assets choose RFID. Smaller banks with fewer than five branches and fewer than 3,000 fixed assets choose barcode. There are always exceptions, and a vendor should work with a bank to determine the best solution.

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