Barcode technology is on its way out. Or is it? With the coming of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), it was postulated that RFID chips would take the place of barcodes. So far, this does not appear to be the case. While RFID use has become more common, it has not taken over. Zebra labels have taken the view that RFID and barcodes can complement each other. In fact, the “smart label” from Zebra fuses the technologies, creating a bridge from the use of one to the use of the other.

Smart labels contain RFID inlays as part of the label itself. This Zebra label has a double layer of coding, capable of being read by both barcode readers and an RFID interrogator (reader). Of course, all this extra coding does make them much more costly than either direct thermal or thermal transfer barcode labels.

These Zebra labels are fairly new to the market but they have been very successful, especially in situations where security is of the utmost importance. The different types of inlays are divided into groups based on their performance as well as the orientation in which they are read. Omni-directional can be read in any direction and are the highest performing. High-gain and standard must be read in a specific direction. There are four standard, four high-gain and five omni-directional inlays available from Zebra labels. The standard group is available in three label sizes: 4x1, 4x2, and 4x6. The high-gain group has all but the 4x1 size option. The omni-directional group is available in 3x3, 4x4, and 4x6 labels. With all these options, plus the encoded material, successfully counterfeiting a smart label is of the utmost difficulty.

Will RFID take the market away from barcodes? Perhaps someday, but currently RFID is too costly to replace the relatively inexpensive barcode technology for everyday items. Where security is paramount, however, Zebra labels have it covered with their ingenious smart label.

Zebra® and the Zebra Logo are registered trademarks of ZIH Corp.

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