Supply chain operators are taking a critical look at RFID vs. Bluetooth technology to improve item-level visibility, which is a challenge for 79 percent of enterprises.
When data collection depends on manual scanning processes, businesses can see a significant discrepancy between digital records and physical inventory. Teams pressured by tight schedules may miss scanning items stacked on the insides of pallets or moving through choke points – or missed scans may be purely a result of human error.
The inability to track items throughout the supply chain results in material and financial losses, but the negative impact doesn’t end there. Without a clear view of where packages are located in warehouses or on the road, supply chains have limited exception-handling capabilities when things go wrong. It also impacts customer experiences and competitiveness.
With so much riding on supply chain visibility, enterprises are comparing and contrasting RFID vs. Bluetooth tracking technologies. The advantages of upgrading from barcode systems or finding more cost efficient solutions compared to GPS transponders are undeniable.
RFID vs. Bluetooth: Which Technology Can Deliver?
When comparing RFID vs. Bluetooth, a good place to start is with what each technology does:
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
RFID systems include tags or labels embedded with RFID chips and software to manage the data. Radio signals from the reader, aka antenna, activate the tag and read and write data to it. RFID tags can hold more data than a barcode, for example, pricing, dates, origin, and product information. However, their capacity is limited. RFID labels only work in response to a nearby RFID reader a short, 2-3m distance away.
Bluetooth Tracking Technology
Bluetooth technology isn’t just a signal. It’s wireless communication. Bluetooth tracking labels contain a computer chip that enables connection with other devices and data sharing. That data can be as simple as an item ID number, or it can include real-time temperature data for cold chain management. Computer chips in the labels can share data via gateways with a range of nearly 300m. They also work with existing Cisco access points or even smartphones or other mobile devices within 100 m of the label.
RFID vs. Bluetooth: What Are the Differences for Labeling and Tracking?
Location-Based vs. Real-Time Tracking
One of the biggest differences between Bluetooth and RFID is when data can be collected. RFID enables data collection exclusively when the label is near an RFID reader. That’s often only when a box is put on a pallet and a warehouse employee scans it. Alternatively, RFID scans happen when boxes pass through choke points with a reader on a dock door when the boxes arrive at their destination. There’s no visibility in between. Furthermore, if a scan isn’t successful, the item is effectively lost in the system.
Bluetooth technology significantly increases item visibility. It can check stock in a warehouse continually with complete inventory audits every minute. It also provides real-time location and temperature data of items by sending data to a driver’s smartphone or other mobile device, which sends the information to the cloud.
Cost of Infrastructure
Another downside of RFID technology is the cost of infrastructure. A single reader at any particular choke point such as a loading bay can cost as much as $10K. Additionally, the complexity of RFID system infrastructure also takes months to implement, unlike Bluetooth systems which typically take just a few days.
The overall cost of deploying a Bluetooth system is less expensive than RFID. Enterprises can use low-price-point devices or existing infrastructure to read data from the labels vs. purchasing dedicated readers. Furthermore, Bluetooth systems require less power consumption than RFID and there’s no concern about human EMI exposure at close range.
Certain materials can interfere with RFID signals, so labels or tags on the insides of pallets can be missed when they pass by a reader. Stacked pallets with densely packaged goods is a well-understood challenge for RFID since RFID labels must absorb energy from readers and then re-transmit RF-signals. Bluetooth transmit signals are active and not attenuated in both directions like RFID, making them much more likely to penetrate through densely-packed pallets. This can translate into significant time savings by not having to depalletize shipments and individually scan inventory at close range.
Why Give Bluetooth Tracking a Second Look
Enterprises with limited experience with Bluetooth may shy away from the technology. However, integrated off-the-shelf solutions that include Bluetooth labels, printers, and software platforms to manage data offer easy implementation, regardless of expertise with the technology.
Additionally, Bluetooth tracking systems can work similarly to black box GPS transponders that supply chain operators attach to pallets, with drastic cost savings. Blackbox GPS devices require cumbersome setup and handling at scale as opposed to simple Bluetooth labels. They also require expensive and tedious reverse logistics to send back to the shipper. Their cost and integration with lithium batteries mean they cannot be disposed of in ordinary waste streams.
On the other hand, Bluetooth labels are inexpensive enough for single use. Bluetooth labels from the right vendor are eco-friendly and safe for landfill disposal – there are no expensive disposal costs.
Overall, state-of-the-art Bluetooth tracking solutions leverage all of the advantages of Bluetooth technology, the familiar form factor of RFID labels, and the cost-effectiveness and ease of using mobile devices as readers. The result is a solution that delivers supply chain visibility and a lower total cost of ownership than other systems.
The Gold Standard
The best supply chain visibility solution will provide on-demand location data in real time, tracking with a high accuracy rate with no lost items. It will also enable printing labels with barcodes to enable tracking and data sharing with all supply chain partners, simplifying processes with one label that holds all information, both printed and digital.
The solution will also enable cost-effective item-level tracking and automated data collection to minimize human intervention –and human error – for the greatest efficiency and effectiveness.
When you compare RFID vs. Bluetooth, you’ll find Bluetooth tracking solutions have the capabilities you need to track every item in every shipment, every time.