The Convergence of Barcode and RFID
Technology has an inexorable momentum, but one that proceeds at a pace determined by utility. Such is the case with barcodes and radio-frequency identification (RFID). Choosing between a barcode or RFID solution is a challenge, but what if you didn’t have to?
“When technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road,” said the American writer and editor Stewart Brand. When Walmart issued its famous RFID mandate in 2003, many manufacturers thought they were being steamrolled. It was viewed as the death knell of barcode technology. Neither the fear nor the forecast has proved accurate.
First, the mandate did not result in a rapid torrent of RFID adoption. Deadlines associated with the mandate have been extended several times because many vendors faced significant difficulties implementing RFID systems, including the relative cost of implementation. The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that the RFID plan set forth by Walmart was “showing signs of fizzling” due to a lack of progress by their executives to introduce the technology to its stores and to the lack of incentives for suppliers. No one was being steamrolled.
Second, barcode technology has remained absolutely vital. It is by far the most dominant track and traces technology in the world. Used globally in nearly all industries, the barcode is the de facto standard for companies worldwide. It is clearly not on its deathbed. In fact, RFID has emerged not as its executioner, but rather as an ally in extending value and intelligence across the supply chain.