RFID: Worth the Switch from Barcodes?

23 February 2017

RFID: Worth the Switch from Barcodes?

Hire companies like you, who are renting high value assets, have long been using rental management software to help identify and track rental assets as they are prepared for delivery. Your operators need to identify and process these items by locating their serial number and keying it into their hire management software of choice. However, our operators are human and occasionally error prone.

Do you process orders with barcodes or RFID technology?
There are two different technologies that rental companies can use to speed up this routine work with the aim of processing these orders more quickly and accurately. The first one is using barcode labels and readers which has been the industry standard for over 30 years in retail and logistics. The second technology to challenge barcodes is RFID technology.

But what are the differences between the two rental asset tracking technologies and are they worth the expense?
Pros and Cons
Barcodes are a visual representation of a serial number attached to equipment which can be interpreted by a barcode reader or even your smartphone. The barcode, of course, requires line-of-site and needs to be scanned from a close proximity in order to be read effectively. Should the barcode itself become damaged in any way, the technology fails to work. Barcode scanners can also only read one item at a time, so it could be argued that scanning hundreds of individual items in this way is labour intensive.

RFID uses tags that are securely attached to a piece of equipment and then uses radio waves to communicate with an antenna to read the information. There are plenty of ways in which RFID is a superior technology to barcoding. RFID doesn't require line-of-site. Passive RFID can read information from quite some distance away. RFID can also write information, whereas barcode scanners can only read it.

RFID can identify items by the tens, hundreds, and even thousands simultaneously. Overall, RFID is 15-20 times faster than barcode inventory systems. In addition, most "fixed" RFID systems can be automated so that they don't require any human involvement, whereas barcode scanners are completely dependent on human interaction.

Weighing the Costs
Barcode technology is widely available and also within the means of many hire companies and perhaps now even more universally accepted with the increasing use of barcode readers on smartphones and other mobile devices. However, a switch to RFID may involve a higher investment in hardware and software which could mean a high initial expenditure and a more long term ROI.

With anticipated time savings offered by RFID, there is still the potential for big gains should a rental company be prepared to invest in its long-term infrastructure. For the vast majority of businesses using rental inventory management software, barcode readers are a more than adequate means of enabling fast data-processing.

Our MCS-rm rental management software integrated with both state-of-the-art RFID and barcode technologies to track the check-in and check-out of equipment on customer jobs, perform stock takes as well as the transfer of equipment between depots.

A well thought out rental asset tracking system will provide an excellent return on investment for rental equipment companies, by reducing errors, speeding up throughput and eliminating labour costs. There’s no easier, more cost-effective way to accurately track rental assets.

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