What Level of Traceability Does Your Manufacturing Plant Have?
There’s a problem with one of your products that turned up during a quality assurance inspection. How do you go about finding the source of the issue? Failure Modeling and Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a valuable tool, but it’s even more valuable when there’s a standard of traceability in your factory.
What is traceability and why is it valuable?
Traceability is the power of a manufacturer to trace the path of a product within a value stream. More specifically, it’s defined as information visibility from “procurement of raw materials and parts to machining, assembly, distribution, and sales, to ensure that their histories can be traced.”
There are different types of traceability within factories — namely chain traceability and internal traceability. Regardless, both are important for numerous reasons, among them transparency, accountability, and agility. Whether it’s finding the source of a problem or better understanding the efficiencies of a value stream, traceability is paramount. It should be no surprise that traceability is a focus of many lean initiatives.
Supply chain traceability — often referred to as track and trace — is a macro approach to traceability. It focuses on the movement of products and materials into and out of your in-house value stream. This level of traceability is important because it relies on controlling the chain of custody, where the integrity of the product might otherwise be outside of your control.
You manufacture widgets. Several of your customers place custom orders for widget variants, which you contract out to a partner. Traceability means accounting for the product as it leaves your facility, when it comes back finished, and when it’s shipped to the customer.
In the case of supply chain traceability, the more variables you can track and trace, the better. For example, being able to track the lot number, date, condition report, and personnel handling the material all attribute to traceability. If there’s a problem, you can trace it back to the root and determine why it occurred using these variables.
Internal traceability is paramount for manufacturers as an in-house liability reduction measure. If there’s a problem, manufacturers need to be able to understand the contributing factors and prevent similar issues from arising.
Several widgets experience failure in the field. Company XYZ needs to issue a recall. After reviewing the faulty widgets, they discover that the source of the failure was a defective gizmo. Through traceability, they’re able to issue a recall for only widgets made using gizmos from X date to Y date, instead of completely shutting down and recalling all products.
Manufacturers need internal traceability to act quickly. Whether it’s a recall or some other quality issue, internal traceability allows the problem to be sourced and fixed in the most efficient manner possible. It’s essential for auditing and process improvement as well.
Welcome high standards for traceability in manufacturing plants
Traceability has always been a focus of factory operations. Today, it’s becoming even more important as supply chains grow more complex and the manufacturing process continues to automate. Thankfully, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and digital ecosystems are taking track and trace to a newfound level of transparency. It’s time for manufacturers to look at their operations and ask, “what level of traceability do we have?”