Why a Barcode Tool Tracking System is Better Than RFID

July 22, 2016

Why a Barcode Tool Tracking System is Better Than RFID

It seems like the hottest term in tracking things is RFID.  Automating the tool room with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) seems like an efficient way to manage the movement of tool inventory.  In practice however, using barcodes to check tools out to workers is a far more efficient way to accomplish the same thing.  While there certainly is a place for RFID, barcode tool tracking systems, like Tool Hawk™ are faster and easier to maintain.  If you are evaluating the differences between the two technologies, you might want to consider the following:

1.    Speed of checking tools in and out

RFID systems require the accurate reading of both the user taking out the tool and the tools he/she has possession of.  The technology is based on the tag receiving the radio waves from the reader and returning this data to the RFID antenna. It does not require line of sight reading like a barcode system.  The problem is that, in order for the system to accurately read that specific employee ID tag and only the tools they are taking, the reader must be adjusted to a closer proximity to the RFID reader.  The employee must be given a sign that their transaction was complete and accurate.  This slows the process down and eliminates the time savings that was promised when considering the solution.

A barcode tool tracking system like Tool Hawk™ requires that the employee simply scan their user ID barcode and the barcodes of the tools they are taking to check out a tool.  This takes a short amount of time to complete.  It is easy enough that employees typically buy into the system with little prodding.  There is also less of “Big brother is watching” as well.

2.    Accuracy of reading only the tools you want

With an RFID system, there is the engineering problem of only reading the tools included in the check in and check out procedure.  If there is a small tool crib, there is a very good chance of reading extraneous RFID tags in each transaction.  This way employee is made responsible for tools they did not take.  It also erroneously reduces the available tool inventory in the tool crib. 

A barcode tool tracking system never has this problem.  Only the tools scanned by the barcode scanner are included in the check out transaction.  In systems like Tool Hawk™ tools, locations and workers are represented by a barcode.  This makes the system fast and accurate.

3.    Cost of hardware to manage tools

Tool Hawk™ barcode tracking system, in most cases, uses a simple barcode scanner attached by cable or wirelessly to a single computer workstation.  Depending on the type of device the cost can run from a few hundred dollars to less than a thousand dollars.
An RFID reader and antenna cost is usually many thousands.  When developing an RFID portal, the cost can go up from there.  When you factoring the engineering and installation costs, it is hard to cost justify the investment.

4.    Cost of RFID tags

Tool Hawk™ is often sold with durable anodized aluminum barcode tags.  These tags a priced around the $1.00 to $1.50 per tag cost, depending on the quantity and size.  A typical RFID tag in a hard protective container can be 20 times the cost and more.  Then there is the time and cost to apply these tags to the tools.

Having noted the differences between a barcode and an RFID tool tracking system, there might be situations where this makes sense.  It might make sense in tool management systems where the environment and the size of tools lend them easier to track that RFID.  In most cases, however, using a well designed and maintained barcode tool tracking system like Tool Hawk™ is the best way to go.

If you would like to discuss Tool Hawk™ with one of our professionals, please feel free to contact us at 844-643-1129, by email at talktous@general-data.com or send us a message by clicking on the link below.