This is a question that people have asked for a long time. At what point will RFID displace bar coding? The question is really driven by the ease of use with RFID and the assumption that it will soon be price competitive with AIDC technology.
There are many applications that make sense for RFID. Take for example a tire center where you have to get new tires and you go in and there is a wall of like 1,000 tires stacked to the ceiling. That service center needs to know instantly what they have in stock – size, style etc. in order to take care of that customer in a reasonable time period. Applications like this where RFID makes a lot of sense.
The biggest limitation for bar codes is that they are line of site dependant meaning that you have to read them one at a time. So for example in a warehouse setting if you scan every box in an incoming shipment you reach the conclusion after 10 minutes what your inventory looks like whereas you can do the same in 10 seconds with an RFID application. When you are dealing with small SKUs or small and complex barcodes, RFID is a better application to deploy. But you are still looking at 10 cents per tag. When the speed of the read is not as much of a factor say at the skid or pallet level bar coding is a much more sensible and effective technology. Because bar coded labels are mere fractions of a penny per label the scanning limitations are offset by very favorable economics.
In many of those situations where instantaneous reads of your entire inventory is required, there is often bar code redundancy. That is the advantage of having both deployed and where the impact of RFID is a positive, complimentary one. So in retail for example, you could validate shipments coming into the backroom using RFID with a bar code and when it’s time to check out that product at the register, the bar code is read by a POS scanner.
Both RFID and AIDC technologies not only have enough application opportunities to coexist, there are actually a number of applications where they’re joint deployment compliments each other and improves the overall solution. This said, they both have a place together in today’s market and should have for some time.