Today more than ever manufacturers are learning the importance of being able to trace their products. Sometimes knowing where and when the product was manufactured is sufficient but often a manufacturer must be able to trace sub-components and even raw materials back to the original source. If your traceability requirements go beyond just place and time of final manufacturing and you need to reach back into your supply chain, partnering with a contract manufacturer that has the experience and systems to support traceability is critical.
Lot numbers, date codes, and serial numbers allow manufacturers to quickly trace items to their original sources and materials, often as far back as their raw material source, enabling detailed quality control checks, easy expiration date verification, and simplified recalls if necessary.
In the past, the record-keeping requirements of tracing lot numbers, serial numbers, and date codes were onerous. Manually done, it required long-term physical access to typed or hand-written documents not necessarily stored on site. Surprisingly, many businesses today continue to rely on this method, even though electronic record keeping has greatly simplified the process, allowing for forward and backward traceability. Suppliers can trace simple parts and complex assemblies from raw material to finished product with the click of a button, and show where and when they were used or shipped.
This was made even easier with the mass adoption of barcode technology which allows for cheap, fast, and easy data collection that is virtually error-free. Data can be collected with ease and sometimes automatically—a capability built into many manufacturing software systems.
Reasons for Tracking
Lot number collection can be important for several reasons:
- Sometimes single lots are required to ensure product uniformity. A supplier able to track lot numbers can force the shipment of single lots by building the requirement into the system. Even closer tracking can be provided with serial numbers which are unique to each part.
- Adhesives, coatings, solvents, and other chemicals are frequently most effective when used within a prescribed date range. Storing date code information on such items ensures that expired products are precluded from being used or shipped.
- Restrictions on the use of dangerous or hazardous substances may require it—for the health and safety of your employees, your customer’s employees, and the end-user. For example, if batteries are discovered to be faulty after-the-fact, affected customers may need to know.
Partner with a Supplier that has Automated tracking Systems
A supplier able to gather, create, and share this level of detail with their customers is able to add considerable value to the delivered product without necessarily adding any additional cost.
Many suppliers have the IT infrastructure and experience to collect, store, and provide this critical information, but certainly not all. The only way to know is to ask! If you need to have detailed traceability data at your disposal about the parts and assemblies used in the product you manufacture, it is critical to choose suppliers with the resources and established background to provide it.
About the Author
Erik Olson is Operations Manager for RESCO Electronics, a Baltimore based manufacturer of electronic assemblies and value-added reseller of auto-ID equipment to Original Equipment Manufacturers. Erik has worked at RESCO in a variety of locations and roles since joining RESCO in 1993 and has extensive experience in Operations Management, Inventory Management, and Sales.
Erik graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. He resides in Sykesville, MD with his wife and two daughters.