Production Traceability for Manufacturing Process Safety

16 Mar, 2022
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Production traceability for manufacturing process safety

The safety and efficiency of your manufacturing process can impact the success of your company as a whole. From helping your business maintain a competitive edge to enhancing product quality, continuous process improvement in manufacturing can have endless benefits. After all, no business can remain static in today’s fast-changing economy!

And, as the global supply chain becomes more layered and complex, it is important to build a manufacturing process that is streamlined, efficient, and safe. 

Product traceability solutions can help you gain better control over your supply chain, understand each step of the product’s journey, protect your brand from counterfeit, and enhance your customers’ experience. 

Learn about how an ad hoc product traceability solution can improve your manufacturing process in this guide by Authena

What Is Traceability in Manufacturing?

Traceability refers to the ability of a company to track all aspects of a product’s manufacturing and distribution journey to the end-user – also called from “farm to fork” in the agri-food sector, or “cradle to grave” in the energy industry. Thanks to traceability, manufacturers can gain unprecedented control over each component of the final product, tracking the journey of each supply from start to end. 

Product traceability in manufacturing can be achieved through the implementation of a traceability system with the aims of:

  • Redesigning the processes in place to gain better control over the product’s journey
  • Aiding the implementation of technologies that allow the tracking and tracing of components
  • Promoting a digital transformation necessary to introduce emerging technologies such as blockchain
  • Aligning the manufacturing process to your business’s goals
  • Tracking inventory and reducing waste
  • Delivering real-time data about the manufacturing process and product journey
  • Preventing risks and improving standards 

What Is Traceability in Manufacturing

Why Is Production Traceability Important in Manufacturing?

So, implementing a traceability solution specifically designed for your business can help you streamline your production process, reduce waste, increase efficiency, and improve quality standards. But even more importantly, production traceability can increase the safety of your entire supply chain.

In particular, today’s manufacturing relies on an extended, dispersed, and layered supply chain, which is very different from the local and short process products went through just a few years ago. 

While such a global network is undoubtedly opening up expansion opportunities for businesses around the world – but such transformations don’t come without their fair share of risks.

In such a scenario, traceability becomes even more important because it can:

  • Review the practices currently in place – traceability can help you better understand the timing and journey of a component through the supply chain. In turn, this helps you identify pain points and areas of improvement, such as a machine or team. 
  • Reduce risks – traceability can enhance your risk assessment and plan of action in the case of an issue. From affected quality standards, to supply chain interruptions or damaging product recalls, traceability solutions can help you find out how severe and widespread the problem is and know exactly how and where to act. 
  • Improve scalability and efficiency – tracing units through the production chain can help you reduce waste of materials and labor, improve efficiency, and promote collaboration between each component of the supply chain. 
  • Reduce fraud – as your supply chain and manufacturing process expands, your business will run a greater risk of counterfeit goods and fraud. And, recent estimations tell us that fake goods account for over 3.3% of the global market making it a severe issue for companies around the world. Thanks to production traceability, you will know what component is at what stage of the supply chain. So, if diversion or adulteration happens, you can act swiftly to protect your brand. 

As the supply chain continues to expand, quality issues and severe product recalls are bound to happen. However, when having a traceability system in place, you have the tools you need to pinpoint the issue (root-cause analysis), understand its severity, and act quickly to resolve it. When trying to protect your brand and secure your reputation, production traceability can help you maintain confidence in your decisions and make informed choices. 

How Is Traceability Implemented in Manufacturing?

Traceability systems are developing alongside the changing needs of today’s supply chain. Thanks to the availability of innovative software and emerging technologies, production traceability is more affordable and efficient than ever. 

However, despite the range of available traceability tech tools, it has never been more important to find a solution that is tailored to your company’s needs. Indeed, from RFID labels and NFC tags to blockchain and smart contracts, there are many combinations of smart packaging and traceability features worth considering. 

Generally, all traceability solutions follow a similar pattern:

  • Components and supplies are tagged to labeled as soon as they arrive at your premises
  • Barcodes, NFC tags, and RFID labels are used as ID systems that interact with IoT devices
  • Cloud software or blockchain databases record each transaction of each component across the manufacturing process
  • You can obtain real-time data about where the items are, how long for, and what quality-control checks they go through
  • Notifications will tell you if there have been unplanned diversions or adulterations of products at some point across the supply chain

Depending on the technology you have implemented and the type of products you manufacture, you can also implement smart packaging solutions to deliver this information to your customers. 

How Is Traceability Implemented in Manufacturing

What Is a Product Traceability System?

Product traceability systems are tailored solutions implemented to improve traceability standards across the manufacturing process and supply chain. They often are a combination of multiple technological tools, including databases, software, hardware, and IoT devices. 

Product traceability systems are designed to track the journey of a product and its components from “cradle to grave,” thus benefiting:

  • Manufacturers looking to collect valuable insights about their supply chain, reduce counterfeiting, and improve efficiency.

There are three types of traceability that a tailored product traceability system can offer:

Forward or “Downstream” Traceability 

This refers to the ability to track a product’s journey after it exits your premises and continues onwards towards the end-user. This kind of traceability allows manufacturers to know where the product is used, who is using it, and the details of its sales. Aside from marketing and loyalty purposes, forward traceability helps pinpoint product diversions and ensure that it travels through the expected distribution channel. 

Backward or Upstream Traceability 

This kind of traceability solutions allow manufacturers to follow the journey traveled by supplies and raw materials to their factory premises. Customers might also benefit from backwards traceability when this system is implemented in a user-friendly way. 

For example, the information collected through NFC and RFID labels throughout the product journey can be immediately available to a consumer through a user-friendly app.

Lastly, in the case of a public health concern or product recall, backward traceability delivers information about the origins and process of each incriminated product. 

Internal Traceability

Internal traceability is mostly suitable for larger businesses and corporations that need to obtain better control over their internal production processes. Since such large businesses often operate across multiple locations, internal traceability can help them pinpoint the location and quality of each product and keep all information in one place. 

How Is Product Traceability Used?

Since your manufacturing company will have its own supply chain and processes to manage, it is important to select a product traceability system that fits your specific needs. Here are some of the ways in which you can successfully use a custom traceability system. 

Track & Trace

The main reason for introducing a traceability solution is that it can help track and trace products, items, and materials across the supply chain. Thanks to NFC or RFID labels, each item will carry a tamper-proof digital and physical seal that will help you safely record the movements of each item across the manufacturing process. 

Readable through compatible apps or Internet of Things devices, these seals can deliver real-time information about the journey of each product from raw materials sourcing to the end-user. 

Supply Chains

Traceability systems allow you to keep control over the supply chain, no matter how complex, large, or layered this is. This means that, thanks to the right traceability solution, you can scale up your business without worrying about affecting quality standards or the increased risk of counterfeit. 

If you are in the process of expanding your supply chain or distribution process, you should consider the benefits of a traceability system that can help your employees keep up with the labor increase.

Fighting Counterfeit 

With estimated sales between $1.7 and $4.5 trillion each year, the counterfeit good markets could represent the largest criminal enterprise in the world. And, as your supply chain expands, your business could be unwillingly offering fraudsters unprecedented opportunities for illegal activity. 

Some of the common forms of fraud include:

  • Fake goods or illegal copies
  • Diversion of goods from the supply chain or distribution channel
  • Adulteration, such as refilling, which can impact the customer’s experience

Thanks to unit-level and manufacturing traceability solutions, you can improve the safety of the entire supply chain and prevent items from being compromised.

Production Control

Lastly, traceability systems can be efficiently used to control production and check the quality of each item. Thanks to high levels of automation and emerging technologies such as decentralized databases and the blockchain, your business can benefit from safe and tamper-proof records of transactions and process stages.

This allows you to control production levels, reduce waste, and streamline the entire manufacturing process. 

Benefits of Traceability in Manufacturing

Deciding to introduce a tailored traceability system in your manufacturing business has many benefits. First of all, you should consider this option because it is, really, the only option – especially if you are looking to grow your business, expand your supply chain, or minimize waste. 

Even more importantly, as your supply chain expands, a fully automated, end-to-end traceability system can help you reduce human error, prevent counterfeiting, and improve the safety of your manufacturing process. 

Some other benefits of this investment include:

  • Preventing brand and reputation damage stemming from a public health issue or product recall
  • Maximizing authorized sales and reducing the chances that fake goods could affect your revenue
  • Ensuring that your R&D department receives the funds expected for the development of new products
  • Creating products that are safer and more suitable for the promised customer experience
  • Reducing waste and keeping up with your sustainability goals
  • Improving your bottom line and adding value to the end-user
  • Monitoring products’ quality and safety from the start to the end of the supply chain

Ultimately, product traceability is crucial from many aspects of your business, from revenue to reputation, brand image, customer loyalty and much more. 

Traceability Methods and Security

There are many traceability methods that you might consider using as part of a holistic traceability system. However, in most cases, you will need to have two main components:

  • A tamper-proof, anti-peeling digital/physical seal on each product that can transmit records and deliver information every time that it gets read by a dedicated device
  •  A compatible device to read the information collected. A simple smartphone can be sufficient for most of the cases.

In the past, most products used a serial number as an ID. and, in recent years, barcodes, unique codes, and QR codes are becoming increasingly popular. While these codes can efficiently deliver information, they are not among the most secure solutions. 

Some more valid alternatives include:

  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagsRFID is a recent technology that employs a two-part technology for the seamless, touch-free exchange of information. Thanks to RFID chips, each item carries a unique ID, which grants manufacturers unprecedented visibility across the entire supply chain. 
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC) tags – they work similarly to RFID labels, but they are more secure because they are engraved in the security seal. Additionally, NFC tags can be read by compatible devices within a short range, making them incredibly secure. 
  • Blockchain verification – the blockchain is a database that employs the principles of consensus, decentralization, and cryptography to secure records of transactions. Since the transactions recorded on the blockchain are immutable and tamper-proof, using blockchain verification sharply reduces the risk of counterfeit. 

Traceability Methods and Security

How Can I Improve Traceability?

Traceability can be improved through the introduction of tailored systems. In this case, partnering with a traceability and product authentication expert at Authena can help you better understand your current needs, discover available technologies, and find a solution that fits your budget and goals. 

Discover A Tailored Product Traceability Solution at Authena 

While there is certainly not a shortage of emerging technologies and systems that can help you improve traceability, it is important to keep in mind that no two companies will have the exact same supply chain and manufacturing processes. 

Here at Authena, we are committed to helping you find a unit-level and manufacturing traceability solution that is designed to meet your specific needs. Request a demo to learn more about what an end-to-end traceability system can do for your business. 

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