Traceability: An Important Success Factor In Business

Updated: Jun 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
Traceability has a big role to play in smooth running of the product flow and in fast defect identification system within manufacturing processes.

Traceability is a method of recording every movement of a product from manufacturing to distribution by which the product can be tracked down later at any point of time. The word first appeared in England in the mid 1990, following a series of food related crises, the most notorious of which was mad cow disease.

The crisis highlighted the need to adopt a procedure to pin down the movements of each item along the production line. When there is no system of identifying infected products within the organisation, numerous product batches have to be destroyed resulting in a big loss to the company. Moreover, such incidents cause loss of human lives due to infection and spread extreme panic among users.

Today, a variety of brands are available in the market, each vying to catch a glimpse of the customer. In such a scenario, playing deaf to the product standard is like committing hara-kiri for any organisation. What could be more damaging for a company when its brand image comes under shadow of mistrust leading to a huge dent on revenue.

Traceability is a systematic process where an assembly of high tech tools is used. They are print & apply label system, laser coder etc fitted to the production line.

Whether the product is a pharmaceutical product, automobile product or beverage, traceability starts with some form of identification printed either directly on the product itself or on a label.

Identification generally comprises a date or batch number, a unique number or any other identification code. There are various marking techniques from stamping to laser printing. Continuous inkjet printing is appreciated for its ease of incorporation into the production line and versatility. However marking alone is not enough.

The critical product data is recorded or encoded, after which this information is systematically arranged in a database. For short shelf life products like dairy items, packaged drinks, drugs etc., traceability systems have proved to be a boon. Such items require going through stringent checking procedures for maintaining standards. Companies spend precious days of shelf life in doing quality tests.

Here it makes sense to invest in a system that can exactly point out which batch to recall if it is necessary to do so. Rather than undergoing a mass shut down and do a total recall exercise, companies can easily detect problems without wasting time and resources over the process.

In the automotive industry, traceability encompasses the entire manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished products.

This is where inkjet technology comes in handy. The advantage of traceability is that in case of a defective part manufactured by an automotive company, it takes less than an hour to draw up the list of vehicles to be identified.

Today, Indian companies, even the small enterprises have taken a global dimension in their business policies. Hence issues like traceability have figured high in the list of priority of the corporate houses.

It goes a long way in protecting the corporate image before public and in the future, it will become indispensable to the credibility of all industry sectors, not only the high-risk sectors like food beverage, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automobiles.

The writer is managing director, Imaje India Pvt Ltd