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Traceability: Complete traceability in production

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Traceability has been legally binding for the production of food and animal feed since 2005. But customers in other industries are now also demanding complete documentation of components, production steps and processes. 

Definition: Traceability

The German term "Rückverfolgbarkeit" is the translation of the English term "Traceability". Traceability is understood as the ability to record a complete traceability of the production processes. The interaction of the respective production processes is recorded in detail for this purpose.

Traceability is defined in the ISO 9001 standard. Manufacturing companies, suppliers, intermediaries, supply chains from logistics and transport as well as the trade as a partner of the customer are fully documented. Even disposal, recovery and recycling can be mapped in a chain of evidence.

The English term "track & trace", also known as "tracing", plays an important role in the tracking of a good through the logistics chain that is being mapped. A distinction is made between two established terms:

Downstream tracing

Downstream tracing describes the path of goods from the producer to the consumer. This tracing path is particularly important for products with a warranty or guarantee on the part of the manufacturer or retailer. Typical examples can be found in the categories "motor vehicles" and "household appliances". If product recalls occur, downstream tracing provides valuable assistance.

Upstream tracing

"Upstream" projected upstream tracing is the process of tracing goods from the consumer to the producer. The classic example of upstream tracing can be found in the food industry. Since 2005, a corresponding regulation of the European Union has governed the traceability of foodstuffs in terms of comprehensive consumer protection.

A typical application example is unauthorized pollution. With the help of Upstream Track & Trace, possible pollutant polluters can be quickly identified.

Traceability in the production of goods is of existential importance for companies in the manufacturing sector today. If difficulties arise with regard to product quality, the manufacturer must be able to quickly identify and eliminate the causes. Compared to a product recall, which is a recurring occurrence in the automotive industry, for example, the investment in a sophisticated traceability software solution represents a rather small cost factor.

Traceability process: introduction of identification and coding systems

Traceability in production is based on the implementation of identification and coding systems. It is used to clearly mark products, batches and geographical origin information.

The following markings are often used:

  • 1D or 2D barcodes
  • RFID tags

The manufacturing process of a product starts with the real-time recording of the product ID. This is stored in a central database together with information about work process stations and information about work performed. In this way, an individual product history, a fingerprint, is created across all components and workstations with collected data from the entire production path.

As soon as a complete production history is available for a product, traceability in production is given. All individual steps are traceable and can be specifically evaluated.

The following factors are characteristic of the use and effect concept of traceability in production:

  • Continuous product history from material delivery via the processing stations to the dealer or customer
  • Determination of the product status
  • Capture and identification of each component used
  • Acquisition of all assembly stages
  • Data collection in the sense of product liability
  • Database-controlled documentation of all tests and process steps
  • Linking with ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), Manufacturing Execution and Shop Floor Data Collection Systems
  • Consistent and problem-oriented tracking

The scope of a modern traceability system for production includes both product and process data. This data is recorded in a central database and can be viewed by management or employees using software tools.

With the help of Track & Trace, individual analyses and status descriptions can be created or measured values retrieved at any time. This enables significant time savings in tracking and analysis. In a global environment, employees have worldwide access to all data and process information via an online portal. Information is exchanged with ERP and product lifecycle management systems via interfaces.

The extensive advantages of traceability in production

The implementation of traceability integrates all data relevant to the product and the production process. This creates a high degree of transparency in production. The digital data stock can be used specifically for business decisions. Every authorized employee in the production process has access to the software tools and analysis tools.

In times of globalization of manufacturing and logistics structures, a well-functioning traceability system is of enormous importance for a prospering company. The focus is always on transparency, starting with the raw materials and continuing through individual part production to the final product ready for sale.

Traceability enables manufacturers to prove when, where and how they manufactured their products. This lays the foundations for product liability and compliance with specified standards. The arguments for consistent traceability are obvious to the management of a company with its own production:

  • Automated generation of reporting and production reports
  • Targeted control of callbacks
  • Prompt and efficient complaints processing
  • Time and cost-conscious production design
  • Error reduction through extensive avoidance of manual entries
  • Avoidance of image damage for the own company

Insurance companies also attach great importance to the traceability of data from production in the event of a claim and in their claims payments.

The components of traceability

The introduction and use of a traceability system in production offers companies in many industries a high degree of stability as well as advantages in further development and image building.

Key aspects include:


Major industrialized countries and economic blocs such as the European Union place high demands on the traceability of products from defined industries. One example is the EU directive for food production. The pharmaceutical and chemical industries, medical technology, semiconductors and electronics, defense, aerospace and the automotive industry also set high standards with regard to traceability.

Individual part tracking

In terms of product liability, each individual part is provided with comprehensive descriptive information on the manufacturing process. Customer standards can be entered and taken into account.

Root cause analysis

Traceability facilitates the analysis of weak points in advance of product delivery. Potential problems can be identified, isolated and remedied at an early stage. In practice, traceability can prevent faulty deliveries, for example.

Optimization of manufacturing processes

Traceability can be used to better control manufacturing processes. This is because the traceability of a manufacturing process increases transparency, weak points can be identified and improvements can be initiated in a targeted manner.

Containment and avoidance of product defects

Traceability in production helps to avoid product defects. In this way, economic losses and damage to the image of the manufacturing company can be avoided.

Globalization of the economy

International and intercontinental linkages are characteristic of ongoing globalization. Traceability is a powerful tool in the implementation and operation of global supply, production and distribution chains. It unfolds its effectiveness in both internal and external traceability.

Cost and deadline competition

Traceability in production offers companies with the appropriate system equipment advantages in the tough international competition on costs and deadlines due to the extended control options. 

Conclusion: Traceability makes the difference

The production and distribution of products without binding and accepted norms and standards no longer fit into today's world. The chance of economic damage would be too great if problems arose in the application or use of the manufactured product.

That is why manufacturers must be able to prove the traceability of their process flows and compliance requirements at any time. It would be entrepreneurially negligent not to take advantage of these opportunities. With powerful traceability software, the complete traceability of manufacturing processes, the use of materials and the process conditions can be clearly documented.

In times of tightening product liability laws, it is Traceability in production an essential software tool. In particular, quality problems with cost-intensive recalls have a damaging effect on the company's image and earnings situation. In the case of claims for damages, the legal situation regarding product liability is clear: The manufacturer has the burden of proof - a good argument for traceability in production!

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