QR Code vs Barcode: Which Is the Best Asset Tracking Solution?

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For an asset-intensive business, using software tools and tagging technology such as QR codes or barcodes is essential for its asset tracking processes. Particularly if they’re reliant on the accuracy of their stock control and inventory management.

With an emphasis on cost-effective and reliable solutions, the use of barcodes and QR codes for asset tracking has been widely adopted by businesses of all sizes. So much so, that GS1 estimates more than 5 billion barcodes alone are scanned on a daily basis. But, when it comes to choosing the best solution to track inventory and equipment, is one solution better than the other?

What Is a QR Code?

Whereas other asset tagging solutions such as RFID operate in a completely different way to barcodes, QR codes are in the same family. In fact, a QR code is just a two-dimensional version of a barcode and is referred to as either a data matrix code or a quick response code.

As opposed to the single linear structure of a one-dimensional barcode, QR codes consist of small black and white shapes in the form of squares and dots that can be read both horizontally and vertically; two dimensions.

What Is a QR Code

As well as storing asset data, the markup of a QR code allows for it to be used in a variety of other scenarios. For instance, different types include:

  • URL
  • PDF
  • Image gallery
  • Google Maps
  • vCard

Since the first development of 2D barcodes in 1994, QR codes have gained popularity throughout both the consumer and business markets. Thanks to the increase in smartphone adoption and access to high-speed internet, an estimated 11 million households in the US alone were forecast to have scanned a QR code in 2020.

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Using QR Codes for Tracking Assets

The versatility of QR codes means they can be utilised for a number of different tasks such as instructional guides, magazine advertising, and nutritional information on food packaging. But, more importantly, they’re an essential asset tagging option for businesses wanting to improve their asset management.

Using QR Codes for Tracking Assets

Similar to 1D barcodes, the process of QR code asset tracking is remarkably simple and can be broken down into three stages:

  1. Data is stored on a unique QR code that is printed and assigned to an asset
  2. The code is scanned by a reader or mobile device which obtains the data
  3. Data is then sent to a computer in binary form which is then decoded

Advantages of QR Code Asset Tracking

The use of QR codes for tracking assets provides businesses with many advantages, especially when compared to other solutions such as barcodes and RFID. The benefits of QR code asset tracking include:

  • Storing up to 2500 numerical characters of data
  • Using smartphones to obtain data
  • Being easy to read by a scanner even when damaged
  • Requiring minimal staff training
  • Being used for a variety of data storage scenarios

What Is a Barcode?

A barcode is a small linear label that features a pattern of vertical white and black bars of varying widths, otherwise known as 1D barcodes.

1D barcodes come in the form of Code 28 and Code 128 barcodes and can typically be found on the back of retail store products.

Each barcode has a unique code that is assigned to a specific asset and is readable via a barcode scanner. A scanner decodes the data stored on a barcode into 1s and 0s and transmits it to a computer or asset tracking system.

The data stored on a barcode can vary. For instance, it can store the SKU number of a specific product or the location history of a piece of equipment.

Typically, 1D barcodes can hold up to 20-25 characters of data. This may be suitable for smaller businesses only using barcodes for inventory management, but it could be a hindrance for others needing to store more relevant asset data.

Using Barcodes for Tracking Assets

Since the very first consumer barcode was scanned in 1974, the use of barcode solutions for asset tracking purposes has grown significantly. This is largely due to their ease-of-use, availability, and cost-efficiency. This makes barcodes particularly appealing to smaller businesses with a large number of current assets.

Using Barcodes for Tracking Assets

Unlike RFID asset tracking systems that require specific hardware, the process of barcode asset tracking can be broken down into just three stages:

  1. Data is stored on a unique barcode that is printed and affixed to an asset
  2. The barcode is read using a scanner that extracts the data
  3. The data is sent to a computer in binary form which is then decoded and stored in an Asset Tracking Software database

Advantages of Using Barcodes

Similar to other tracking solutions such as RFID and NFC, using barcodes to help track and manage assets can provide a wide range of benefits for businesses:

  • Cost-effective to print, purchase, and use
  • Quicker to scan as opposed to manual data entry
  • Requires minimal training to operate a barcode scanner
  • Reduces error rate to as little as 1 error in 36 trillion characters

QR Codes vs. Barcodes: Which Is Better for Asset Tracking?

While barcode and QR code asset tracking solutions are both cost-effective, reliable, and easy to use, there are some clear differences that may appeal to the way businesses deploy them for tracking assets.

Durability and Accuracy

One key difference between barcodes and QR codes is the durability of each tag or label. With poor barcode quality costing UK businesses between £500 million and £1 billion per year, the accuracy of asset tags is essential.

Whereas slight damage to a barcode, such as a small tear or crease, can cause it to fail completely, a QR code can still operate as normal even with substantial damage. In fact, only 30% of a QR code needs to be intact for a scan to be successful.

Not only this, but they can be read by a scanner at various angles. Whereas a linear barcode needs to be scanned face on.

Before choosing between a barcode or QR code asset tracking solution, it’s important that businesses consider their environment. For instance, in environments where labels can be easily damaged such as warehouses, stock rooms, or in transit, QR codes may seem a more suitable option.

Advantages of Using Barcodes

Allowing scanners to read data both vertically and horizontally, as opposed to a single linear strip, means QR codes can store significantly more numerical data than a 1D barcode. Whereas barcodes can typically store up to 25 characters, a QR code can store up to 2500 numerical characters.

Having the ability to store more data enables QR codes to be used for various scenarios that benefit a business’s asset tracking processes, such as:

  • Tracking asset locations
  • Viewing asset maintenance and repair history
  • Managing the asset lifecycle from procurement to disposal
  • Building asset check-in and check-out systems

Side by Side Differences Between Barcode and QR Codes

 Barcode QR Code
 CostCheap to print or purchaseCheap to print or purchase
 Range Within 10 inches of the line of sight Within 2 feet of the line of sight for standard sizes
 Durability Can be easily damaged Needs just 30% of the label to be scanned
 Storage Space Up to 20-25 characters Up to 2500 numerical characters