Barcodes vs RFID for fuel and lubricant deliveries
We occasionally get questions from customers about using barcode labels or RFID tags to mark assets for fuel and lubricant deliveries. When using fuel or lubricant delivery software, the driver typically scans a barcode or RFID tag to confirm the vehicle or tank being filled. This eliminates the need for a driver to manually key in a value or hand write a tank number, and possibly record the wrong ID. When the driver scans the label or tag, the mobile device can validate product compatibility, so the driver cannot put dyed diesel in a gas tank, or cross-deliver 5W-20 conventional oil into a synthetic tank.
The questions we get include:
• When should I use RFID over barcodes, or barcodes over RFID?
• What’s the cost difference?
• What kinds of companies are using RFID vs barcodes?
Let’s start with some background to understand the key characteristics of each.
• Come in 2 main types: 1D (the vertical lines like UPC codes) and 2D (like QR codes or your driver’s license).
• Can be printed on various materials – paper, polyester, polypropylene, metal, etc. The material they are printed on determines their durability.
• Use different adhesives to stick to different materials – there are adhesives for metal, plastic, etc.
• Have different durability characteristics depending on their use. For example, KIMDURA labels are designed to withstand exposure to chemicals, solvents, abrasions, etc.
• 2D barcodes can hold up to 4000 characters of data
• Come in 2 main types: HF (High Frequency), which have been around since the 1950’s, and UHF (which were popularized when Walmart started their initiative).
• HF tags are frequently seen as a button, and have a read range of approximately 8 inches.
• UHF tags typically can have a read range up to 10 feet from a mobile RFID reader, but 2-3 feet is more common.
• UHF tags range in size from very small (less than ½ inch) to 4”x6”
• In order to use UHF tags on metal, you need a specially designed metal-mount tag.
• RFID tags can have specialty adhesives just like barcodes, but due to the lower volume they tend to be a specialty order.
• RFID can be read through other material, like clothing, but it does NOT read well through liquids or metal. A non-metal mount RFID tag placed on a metal tank will not read, even if you are less than a foot away.
• If an RFID tag is on a poly tank full of liquid (oil tote, bleach, etc), it will not read through the tank.
So when should you use barcodes vs RFID with your fuel and lubricant delivery software?
When to use RFID over barcodes:
RFID for fuel and lubricant delivery has typically been implemented with HF tags (buttons). In this scenario, the tag scanner/reader needs to be placed within a few inches of the button in order to read it. The advantage of RFID buttons in extremely dirty or harsh environments is that the button can get covered in dirt or grime, and you can still read it. A 1D barcode label that is damaged will not be scannable. A 2D barcode can sustain some damage and usually still be scanned. The downside of RFID buttons is they are raised, so if you power wash a truck or tank, it can be pretty easy to wash off the button. And if you have multiple buttons, you have to scan the button in order to find a specific one because they may not have a human readable value that a driver can see. Some smart phones can read HF RFID tags, but in general, RFID readers can be significantly more expensive than barcode scanners. A UHF capable RFID mobile scanner is typically $3000-$4500. Your choice of devices for RFID is significantly limited compared to barcodes.
When to use barcodes over RFID:
Barcodes can be read by imagers (ex. phone cameras) as well as dedicated barcode scanners. Barcodes are available in exceptionally durable (polyester, polypropylene, KIMDURA) formats and are designed to last years in rugged outdoor environments. In our experience, there is NO advantage to use RFID over barcodes when using fuel and lubricant delivery software, or really for any bulk products (bleach, chemicals, etc.). Today’s barcode material and adhesives meet the durability needs of most bulk product distribution scenarios without the higher cost for RFID tags and reader hardware.
What’s the cost difference between RFID and barcodes?
Hardened HF RFID tags are typically $3-6/each, depending on quantities purchased (less than 1000). $130 for qty of 25.
UHF RFID tags are around $.10/each. Metal mount UHF tags are > $1/each.
Durable barcode labels are about $.01/each. 2500 labels are around $300.