All things must evolve or they remain constant as the world changes around them. From there the path could either lead to being left behind or dying out. UPC’s or Universal Product Codes are the foundation of the barcode used for data collection. They are now becoming a thing of the past as an old yet new technology surpasses its capabilities—Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags or Auto-IDs. RFID’s have actually been around for quite some time, just used for different purposes such as during WWII to track cargo, agriculture to track livestock, or in transportation like the EZ Pass technology. Now, RFID’s are utilized in many other industries to ensure proper identification of “coded” or “tagged” items for data collection, much like UPC’s, but they also increase production, improve inventory, and provide much more information to its end user (Moss & Lazar, 2013). This paper elaborates this comparison of UPC’s vs. RFID’s and reflects on the current growth of the RFID market, highlighting many examples used in businesses today.
Universal Product Codes, introduced in 1973, use black and white barcodes placed on items coupled with scanners (hand-held or stationary) and databases. UPC’s are matching on identical items and scanned as they are retailed (Sousa & Oz, 2015). The benefits of using this very inexpensive (.01 cent per tag) data collection method are: ensuring correct pricing, generating sales reports, collection of manufacturing data, inspection, logistics, transportation, and inventory control (Moss & Lazar, 2013). The drawbacks of using barcodes is that they require line of sight and can only be read one at a time. While UPC tagging has worked for many industries for some time, they are limited to item level coding and the benefits aforementioned.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on the other hand have been jetting past this technology, according to the RFID Journal, showing since 2012 nearly 98% of companies are pursuing transitioning to RFIDs over UPCs (Roberti, 2012). The main difference is that RFIDs can be used almost anywhere, not just for SCM, logistics, or retail, and can gather much more information at a much faster rate. Imagine going to the grocery store and instead of scanning each individual UPC coded item, a reader can scan all of the items at once tagged with RFID technology, saving time for both the business and consumer. This not only saves the business time and unnecessary labor, it also speeds up the buying process for the consumer.
The RFID contains chips or tags embedded with an antenna and integrated circuit, uses readers that emit electrostatic energy signals to the chips that return to the reader, and requires RFID specific software to allow for the transfer of data to a database (Moss & Lazar, 2013). Readers must be in proximity to pick up the signals, the more expensive the RFID reader, the longer the signal. There are a two types of RFID’s including passive tags or Read/Write which can be rewritten over and over (most common), and WORM tags or Write-Once-Read-Many which are not alterable once written. RFID tags not only track items at the item level, but also at the unit level and line of sight to read the tags is not required. Chips can also be molded into casings making them invisible to the consumers (Moss & Lazar, 2013).
The benefits of using RFID’s are vast to include: anti-counterfeiting; automating business processes; improvement of asset utilization; enhancing product traceability; improving quality control; increasing SCM, efficiency, and collaboration; improved inventory management; reducing 86’ed products; reducing theft and product loss; increased synchronization of data across supply chains and internally; improvement of accuracy of transactions; enhanced security measurement; and capturing of more information in real time (Roberti, 2012). The drawbacks of RFID technology all include time to implement at first and cost. RFID tags cost between 5 cents and $10,000 each depending on the speed and range. There are also software costs and setup costs which can range between $50,000-$200,000, plus education and training of use (Moss & Lazar, 2013). However, as technology and application prices become cheaper, RFID value increases (Qianli & Zhang, 2015).
Industry Specific Examples
Since there are countless ways to use this technology, and we are discovering more and more each day, I will list the different types of industries using RFID’s currently and give some examples in the following table (RFID Journal, 2011):
(Note: these are only a portion of the fields, not all can be listed with this study)
|Supply Chain Management||DOD, Custom Cupboards||Track shipments & assets, instruct robots accelerating production and cutting costs|
|Arts & Entertainment||Malibu Rum, SmartKitchen, Heiniken||Keeps track of liquor pouring to decrease loss or theft, Automated recipe reader, refrigerator and stove for proper food handling and storage, also can be used for advertising to beacon consumers|
|Education||Brittan Elementary||ID tags of students, tracks attendance, bussing, and GPS locator for potential kidnapping|
|Laundry||Genius Laundry||Reads instructions for washing each garment and washes accordingly, automated detergent based on size|
|Travel||Bucharest Smart Public Transportation||Beacons and Bluetooth for riders with disabilities/impairments|
|Agriculture||New Zealand Livestock||Ensuring food safety|
|Medical||Dutch Research Firm||Developing life-enhancing/saving sensor technology|
|Aerospace/Aviation||Airbus and Boeing||Tracking & assembling parts|
|Apparel/Footwear||American Apparel, Macy’s, JC Penney, Walmart…||Item-level deployment and reduced labor/inventory stocking|
|Energy/Utilities||DOE||Environmental tags to collect temperature, humidity and other data|
|Mass Transit||Bombardier’s Transportation,
|Improve rail worker safety, reduce baggage loss to .01%|
|Mobile Marketing||Dairy Queen||Customer loyalty and discount program|
|Stock Market||New York Stock Exchange||Tracking handheld trading to keep traders out of unauthorized areas|
|Casinos||Bellagio Casino & Resort||Chips in the chips to deter theft|
|Car Dealers||Fields BMW Winter Park||Tracking tires to deter theft|
|Libraries||San Bernardino’s Library||To track books|
|Pharmaceuticals||Gador Laboratories||Reduce counterfeiting of drugs|
|Construction||Magnor Plant||Speed up inspections and increase safety|
|Coffee Farms||Almacafe||Bean tracking and bagging|
|Magazines||Focus||Understand readership and collect customer data|
|Pest Control||Dow AgroSciences||To help find termites faster|
No one knows exactly when RFID’s will completely replace UPC’s, but predictions are swarmed around the year 2030 (RFID Journal, 2011). RFID technologies are part of a universal infrastructure which is the backbone of mobile commerce. The goal for any industry is to add value to increase output and revenues, while decreasing inputs and costs. This technology does just that. RFID’s enable the mobility of many crucial factors that free up much human labor, especially in the fields of data collection (Qianli & Zhang 2016). Some fear that technologies such as these are the reasons behind people losing jobs. It is my observation that all things must change, we can’t keep doing the same jobs expecting to grow. Computers give us that freedom to choose other occupations or perform other tasks that enable this growth. Therefore, I welcome this new technology and have plans to incorporate RFID’s in all my business and even home-life processes to give me the freedom to evolve.
Moss, H. K., & Lazar, L. D. (2013). radio frequency identification technology: a new method of controlling inventory. Supervision, 74(1), 8-11.
Qianli, D., & Zhang, M. Y. (2016). Usage of RFID Technology in Supply Chain: Benefits and Challenges. International Journal of Applied Engineering Research, 11(5), 3720-3727.
RFID for What? 101 Innovative Ways to Use RFID. (cover story). (2011). RFID Journal, 11-14.
Roberti, M. (2012). Interest Shifts to Internal RFID Applications. RFID Journal, 9(5), 8-9.
Sousa, K. & Oz, E. (2015). Management information systems (7th ed.). Connecticut: Cengage Learning.