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What is traceability?

Traceability is the ability to identify when, where, and by whom a product or commodity was obtained, produced, processed, stored, transported, consumed, and disposed of. The concept of traceability thus covers the entire production and value-added chain of a product or commodity, from the extraction of the raw materials, through production and processing, storage and transport, to consumption and disposal.

“Traceability,” which consists of the words “trace” and “ability”. The literal meaning of traceability is, therefore, the ability to trace or record something.

A prerequisite for successful traceability of goods is the availability of information on manufacturers, suppliers, and intermediaries and the complete documentation of all processes or goods movements between the parties involved. Put, the entire production history of a good must be traceable. Traceability is regulated in the ISO 9001 standard of the International Organization for Standardization.

Types of Track & Trace

In practice, the tracking of a good on its way along the logistics chain is often expressed with the English terms “track & trace” or “tracing”.

There are two basic types of tracing: downstream and upstream. Downstream tracing refers to the (downstream) tracking of goods from the producer to the consumer. Upstream tracing refers to the (upstream) tracking of products from the consumer to the producer.

Traceability Lösung von Forcam. Exemplarischer Ausschnitt der Software.

Downstream Tracing

In downstream tracing, either individual product copies (with a unique serial number) or lots (with a common lot number) are traced along the logistics chain from the manufacturer to the consumer. The track & trace can only refer to a part of this chain and can, for example, end at the retailer or extend to the end consumer. In the ideal case of downstream tracing, the manufacturer knows at which end consumers his products are in use.

Downstream tracing is particularly essential for products that are associated with a warranty or guarantee from the manufacturer or dealer. These include cars and household appliances, for example. Perfect downstream tracing is particularly crucial for recall campaigns.

For manufacturers and dealers, downstream tracing is also an essential resource in terms of successful marketing and excellent customer loyalty. Manufacturers and dealers who know which products have been used by whom for how long can address their customers with very targeted marketing measures and thus ensure ideal customer loyalty.

Upstream Tracing

Upstream tracing refers to the tracing of goods against the logistical chain, i.e., from the consumer to the retailer, his supplier, and, if applicable, to the original producer.
A typical example of upstream track & trace is food. Since 2005, the European Union has had a regulation on the traceability of foodstuffs. This is intended to ensure, in the interests of the highest possible consumer protection and the most excellent possible transparency, that in the event of problems with food, for example, in the case of unacceptable levels of contaminants, the originator can be identified as quickly as possible.

Internal Traceability

In addition to external traceability along the production and supply chain, the internal traceability of parts and products also play a major role in companies. Especially large companies with large plants in different countries need to know which elements and products were processed in which plants and in which manufacturing processes.

In practice, each product or batch is given its own identification number, which enables an internal company and plant track & trace. This identification number can be assigned additional information throughout the manufacturing process, such as dimensions or inspection results.

Internal traceability also plays a vital role in the parts management of companies. Track & trace is used here to control and operate reusable parts such as tools. Through the use of specific serial numbers, it is traceable in detail.

The meaning of Traceability

The traceability of products and parts is of paramount importance, especially for companies in the manufacturing industry, as they are forced to maintain the highest quality standards. If a problem arises with regard to product quality, a company must be able to rectify it immediately. The costs of recall campaigns, for example, in the automotive industry, often add up to hundreds of millions of euros.

Furthermore, in a global economy, the supply and service chains in almost all industries are internationally interlinked. Against this background, the traceability of products and goods is a necessary prerequisite for the successful operation of companies in a global environment.

And last but not least, consumer protection is also a reliable driver for transparency in value chains. Companies that are not able to practice upstream and downstream tracing can face massive legal difficulties in case of doubt.

About the author

With a global mindset and entrepreneurial spirit, Sandy Abraham works with and across the organization to execute on integrated marketing programs and to initiate compelling new operational models. Sandy loves pugs, travel, automotive engineering, the aerospace industry, and smart design.



Sandy Abraham

Marketing & Brand Management
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