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Barcode vs. RFID: What’s More Rugged for Your Tool Inventory?

When tracking tools and equipment, construction and mining companies must often contend with the harsh environments the tools are used in. Tools can become covered in dirt, grease and contaminants that make them difficult to track. This is why companies with large a large tool inventory seek rugged, durable equipment tracking solutions that ensure accurate inventory counts, check-outs and check-ins, and preventive maintenance schedules no matter what condition a piece of equipment is in.

Two of today’s most reliable and popular solutions involve using barcodes and/or RFID tags to track tools and equipment. Both systems involve attaching labels or tags to each tool and using a combination of readers, scanners and software to track them. However, there are important differences between these two technologies and their applications, especially when it comes to their use in tough environments.

Barcodes

Barcodes have been the dominant system for tracking items for the past few decades – with good reason. They’re small, light and inexpensive, allowing companies with large inventories to track hundreds of items simply and easily. This system can be advantageous for construction or mining firms because barcodes can be printed directly on plastic, metal or just about any other surface. Also, barcodes do not experience interference issues related to the type of material they’re printed on, allowing them to be read reliably in many different applications.

At the same time, barcode readers require a direct line of sight to scan a barcode. This means that barcodes must be placed on the outside of a piece of equipment or a tool, subjecting it to potential wear and tear. Excessive grease and dirt can also make a barcode unreadable. In general, barcode readers are not as fast as RFID – they take about a half second or more to read a barcode.

RFID Tags

RFID tags offer several advantages over traditional barcodes. Line of sight is not required for RFID readers to read active or passive RFID tags. The tags can be read much faster, with read rates of dozens of tags per second.

RFID tags are often much more rugged due to the covering that typically protects the electronic components. In addition, RFID tags can even be placed inside the equipment or tool itself, guaranteeing greater longevity and ruggedness. These tags can be read reliably in very harsh environments.

RFID systems are often more expensive than barcodes; however, in addition to their superior durability, an RFID system offers many more tracking options and advances features, such as read/write capability. This means that information can be stored on each tag, including the next date for maintenance, when a part was ordered, and when it is due to be received. These tags are also very difficult to replicate and can store password-protected or even encrypted data.

What’s Better for Your Tool Inventory?

Barcodes, while not as advanced as RFID tags, still have an important place in tool inventory tracking. In some cases, a hybrid solution may be the best option for your company, as it may make the most financial sense to use barcodes on less expensive or consumable items while tracking more expensive assets with RFID. Overall, RFID tags are more rugged, faster to read, more secure, and offer greater functionality. RFID will continue to be adopted more and more often by construction and mining companies in the future.

Whatever technology your company uses, ToolHound can be integrated to optimize your tracking, reporting, purchasing, rentals and many other areas of your operation. ToolHound functions with barcodes, RFID or both to make your tool tracking simple and efficient. Whether you’re looking to implement a new RFID or barcode system, or you want to improve the performance of your existing technology, ToolHound ensures you’ll get the best return on investment.