Product identification and Traceability -A key aspect of Supply Chain Management and Quality Management System

One of the most important aspects in Supply Chain is identification and traceability of products or services. Product traceability enables manufacturers to track the origin of a product, including the raw materials used in its production, the manufacturing process, and the packaging and distribution process. Product can be Final assembly, Sub-assembly, Component Parts, Raw Materials or any kind of Services.

In ISO 9001 standards, from the beginning version to the latest one (2015) , one important clause is there on Product identification and traceability.   In ISO 9001:2015, subclause 8.5.2- Identification and Traceability states the following three requirements around identification and traceability:

·       Use appropriate means to identify outputs when it is required to ensure the conformity of products and services.

·       Identify the status of outputs with respect to monitoring and measuring requirements throughout production and service provision.

·       Control the unique identification of the outputs when traceability is a requirement, and retain documented information on traceability.

This means, one manufacturer or service provider has to maintain proper objective evidence in terms of documentation for Identification and Traceability of their products and services to attain conformance in their Quality Standards. These documentation can be in the form of Paper work, Bar Code, ERP Forms , Route Card or Job Card, Work Order, Inspection Labels, Process Sheet, Project log or Status Report.

In early 90s , manufacturers who produces very critical items , these kind of documentations were mandatory as per their Customer’s requirement. I can remember when I was working in a manufacturing company who were producing Current collection unit for railways, used to maintain these documents mostly manually. One case happened when one Pantograph (Current collection unit in train) got failed in the trial run and returned to our factory from railways workshop. The failure was due to a machining fault of one its major part and we identified the root cause of the failure by tracing back from assembly to in process inspection following all its relevant document. The part has a serial number or an inspection date stamp on it and by that Number we could find out the inspection date, machining date, lot of the machining in shop floor and the machine number where it has been machined initially. We found that the internal diameter of the part was wrong (not in the tolerance limit) as it did not match with the drawing provided to the operator. The drawing was a controlled copy with latest revision. Eventually, it was a fault of the operator as well as shop floor inspector who measured the diameter incorrectly after machining and wrongly entered in the Job Sheet. In this way , we could reach to the root cause of the problem and took preventive action on this. So, product identification and traceability helped identifying bottlenecks in the production process and fix them quickly, resulting in improved throughput and reduced waste.

Product traceability can improve efficiency by streamlining the manufacturing process. By accurately tracking the movement of raw materials, manufacturers can better manage their inventory and avoid production delays due to shortages. Traceability is often a legal requirement for manufacturers, especially in the food, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries. Manufacturers must ensure their products meet regulatory requirements, including safety, quality, and environmental standards. Traceability provides the necessary documentation and audit trails required to demonstrate such regulatory compliance.

Responsibility of maintaining traceability lies on various stake holders who are involved in product development, manufacturing, planning and quality inspection. They are basically design engineers, planning engineers, shop floor supervisors, operators, inspection team and delivery executives. Each of them is equally responsible to maintain proper documentation of their respective action to ensure traceability of the any parts or products are maintained properly. Even sub-contractors, suppliers , external auditors, transportation agencies  are held responsible in this seamless process . They must provide accurate and detailed information about the materials and components they supply, including origin, quality, and compliance with regulatory requirements. Suppliers must also ensure that all materials are properly identified and labeled and maintain accurate records to enable traceability throughout the supply chain. Distributors or Logistics provider or seller also should present proper document to customers or consumers to ensure that product is identified properly and it can be traced throughout their manufacturing process to avoid any counterfeiting.

Procedure for Product Identification and Traceability :

Procedures to identify products and to maintain its traceability varies depending on type of industry and product or material being handled. However, generally it can be categorized as :

·       Procedures for identifying products.

·       Procedures for segregating and differentiating between product and tooling when their function and look are similar.

·       Procedures for providing traceability of product or item including unique serialization.

Generally, there are three types of material are being handled in a Manufacturing Industry which need proper identification and traceability:

·       Product: Any Part or Assembly which is Ordered by Customer or in Work in progress (WIP) . For Service Industry It can be a Software, Documents, Reports or Schedules or any other services.

·       Raw Material: Any materials or items which become integral part of the finished products. Some of these items are called as consumables.

·       Tooling: Devices used by manufacturing for set up or production e.g Jigs and Fixtures. Similarly devices used for inspection to accept/reject the material, e.g. Testing fixtures.

Identification and Traceability of:

·       Product: Identification typically includes assigning a Part Number, Revision and unique Serial Number (if applicable) or Work Order Number. This is done by any of the following methods :

a.       Assigning a Part Number physically by ink or etching or some other method on the Part.

b.       Storing  the Parts in designated /identified Location  with appropriate Tag/Board or Paper works.

c.       For critical parts where unique serialization is required for traceability, the parts are identified by a unique serial number as per customer’s requirement. No two parts will be given same serial number. Work Order number, under which Parts are manufactured , is the Key Document Number which shall record the Part serial numbers.

d.       Sometimes, if same kind of parts are produced in bulk, unique lot or batch number is used to identify the parts.

·       Raw Material:

a.       For traceability raw materials are required to mark lot number or batch number under which the have been procured. These lot/batch number are put during receipt of material. Sometimes Purchase Order Number or Supplier lot number are also used for identification and traceability.

b.       Unused Raw material will be returned to stock with proper identification before re-entry into inventory for future use.

·       Tooling:

a.       All Tools used for Production (fixtures, jigs, molds, support or set up devices etc) should be designated and built according to engineering data. Those should be validated to ensure that performance of the tool is as expected without damaging the product.

b.       After validation tools are marked with a unique Tool ID number. The Number should be such that it can be distinguished from Main Part Number or Raw material.

·       For Service Deliverable:

a.       In case of Service Industries, Service deliverables are identified by Title, Document Number (Customer Contract Number) , Revision Number, Release date.

b.       In all cases, the deliverables will be identified in a such way so that it can be understood for which Contract or Project the deliverables relate to.

After ERP evolved, product identification and traceability become an inherent feature in all ERP packages. It can be done by following ways:

·       Codification of all items used in manufacturing process is the first step of Product identification. If Item is properly codified, from code itself it is possible to identify the nature of the item.

·       Different item attributes are also used to differentiate one item from another.

·        Every item in the ERP system can be tracked at any point of item through Lot Control, Batch Control or Serial Control features. From serial number it can be traced back easily which supplier sent this and against which Purchase Order it is received.

·       Similarly in case any of any customer complaints, the root cause of the problem can easily be found out exploring different functionality like Customer orders, Shop Floor Execution, Work Orders, Material Issue, Inventory, Inspection and Purchase Orders.

·       ERP being an integrated system among various departments, it has become most effective tool nowadays for maintain product identification and traceability. To maintain this more effectively, manufacturers are currently integrating Bar coding, RFID Tagging or Blockchain with ERP system.

In conclusion, product identification and traceability play a major crucial role in any manufacturing industry. It keeps all records of Product journey from raw material to finished goods stage and ensures consumers a high quality and socially acceptable product. It also helps developing automation in manufacturing process. As the manufacturing industry continues to evolve, it is essential to stay up to date with the latest trends and advancements in product identification traceability to remain competitive and meet consumer demands.


Author Details

Subrata Basak

Working in Infosys for 13 years in ERP implementation (EAS).

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