8 Steps to Cracking the Traceability Code

8 Steps to Cracking the Traceability Code

As supply chain disruptions and competition increases at a global scale, supply chain visibility has become vital for business success. Lack of visibility along the supply chain not only poses a risk to the seamless flow of goods but also raises concerns about product quality and overall productivity. With only 13% of manufacturers having full visibility into their supply chain network, it’s important to manage this challenge.

Navigating this issue prompts the question: How can manufacturers enhance visibility into their supply chain while simultaneously safeguarding product quality and increasing productivity?

The answer lies in the prioritizing traceability. Ensuring accurate traceability goes beyond mere processes into the importance of ensuring product quality and building and maintaining consumer trust.

The benefits of traceability significantly outweigh the time and cost required to establish an effective system. Here are eight essential steps needed to build an accurate traceability system that customers can rely on:

1. Identify your processes and materials. The first thing manufacturers must do is identify both the materials and the individual steps along the production process. This can be organized through either a standards-based naming system or an internally established naming system, allowing manufacturers to make sense of the information that has been collected as it’s being gathered.

2. Develop your lot definitions. To determine the level of traceability needed, it’s important to define and understand lot sizes.

Traditionally, a production lot encompassed a specific product’s extensive, multi-day production process, but as manufacturers optimized production, lot sizes became significantly smaller.

Today the definition of a production lot is no longer solely based on the number of products, but is now more nuanced, considering specific elements of the production process to enable better control, quality assurance, and traceability in modern manufacturing environments.

3. Mark materials. Marking products with identifiers is a key step in developing an accurate traceability system within a manufacturing facility as it enables the tracking of materials and products throughout the entire production process.

Products can be marked through an RFID tag, barcode, or another technology in the firmware of a machine, station, or test stand to trace the process as raw materials are received and finished goods are produced.

Marking is a continuous aspect of the production process that is critical to quality control, regulatory compliance, and overall process efficiency.

4. Begin collecting evidence for traceability. Once manufacturers are ready to begin collecting information, they should focus on the raw materials.

Manufacturers must record the arrival of raw materials to the workstation, their movement through the manufacturing process, and how they associate with the specific products being produced.

This systematic approach ensures a clear record of which materials are used and how, laying the foundation for accurate traceability throughout.

5. Manage inbound materials. The next step is to validate inbound materials against the prescribed recipe or bill. Traceability systems should be designed to record the movement of materials and establish a genealogy tree of content, mapping the relationships between internal lots and components. This is then used in the manufacturing process to guarantee that the right materials are used at the right stages.

In addition, traceability enhances manufacturing efficiency by allowing for real-time adjustments, material replenishment signals, and procedural automation.

6. Authenticate process information. The authentication process ensures that products move through the production line in the right order and at the right time, with validation efforts ranging from high-level checks based on routing plans to more intricate assessments involving machine controls and detailed measurements.

7. Label products and containers. Proper labeling is crucial to maintain uninterrupted production, prevent delays, and ensure the profitability of manufacturing plants.

Incorrect labels on packages are the primary cause of customer returns; these may result from inaccuracies in the label information, quantity discrepancies, or part number errors. The consequences of such issues include not only financial losses for manufacturers but also a decline in customer satisfaction and trust.

From a consumer standpoint, accurate labeling avoids the disappointment of receiving a product that does not meet expectations.

8. Conduct lot acceptance testing. Once all of the information is in place, manufacturers can take samples of products during the production process and subject them to quality testing in a lab. This testing involves assessing key parameters such as parts per million, stress levels, dimensional accuracy, etc.

Years ago, manufacturers would have had to shut down an entire plant if their components failed the testing. Today, they can conduct lot acceptance testing with a high degree of traceability that allows manufacturers to easily identify what went into the specific product and, by extension, which population of products might have been affected.

As the manufacturing landscape continues to evolve, an accurate traceability system has never been more important. The steps outlined above, from identifying processes and materials to conducting lot acceptance testing, form a comprehensive framework that enhances the accuracy of traceability and contributes to product quality and fosters customer trust.