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  • Joseph Augustus

Essentials of Effective Product Support Part 1: Overview on Traceability Function

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

Essentials of Effective Product Support

As of Oct’2021, there are apx 5.3 million MSME registered in the Udayam portal. In this heavily competitive space, the key to being a successful entrepreneur in the engineered components manufacturing sector is in the ability to ensure consistent quality and timely delivery as per the clients expected standards on the manufactured parts. This is where Traceability in manufacturing plays a crucial role, and it's an essential part of Effective Product Manufacturing.

The components produced by you may be used directly or become part of an assembly on the finished product. Hence the quality of your component has a bearing on the ultimate performance of the finished goods. Although the final quality control in your production line as well as your clients incoming quality gate are there to ensure that product anomalies are filtered out, nevertheless there are occasions when you have to deal with product complaints. Product quality assurance is paramount here, and Implementing traceability can be a game-changer.

In a process-driven manufacturing operation, a defective product found at the client's end has serious consequence both in the ongoing production schedule as well as on economic terms for your organization. Implementing traceability with swiftness and decisiveness at which you address such escalated product complaints will make certain that the issue is precisely identified and the problem is eradicated from reoccurring. Such an action will guarantee the acceptability of your produced parts as well as protect the profitability of your operation.

However, to make sure that you are able to zero in on the root cause of the quality or process defect on that particular component which has failed, the organization needs to have certain capabilities incorporated in its manufacturing and operational process. Traceability in manufacturing is key here.

So in this article, let’s focus on one of the key elements that is to be present in your manufacturing process to effectively provide Product Support – TRACEABILITY.

By definition, Traceability in manufacturing in the manufacturing context means the capability for the producer to track the lifecycle of the produced component, with the ability to identify and record critical data at various stages - right from raw material sourcing, continued through various stages of process and until delivery to the customer. This is vital for Effective Product Manufacturing and Product quality assurance.

Traceability functions might not be considered as a mandatory requirement for some general parts manufacturing processes, even though all manufacturing organizations have adopted certain quality management systems as standard for their operations.

Implementing traceability is a step towards excellence.

Majority of the manufacturing units would have been certified for ISO 9001:2015, wherein there is a sub clause, 8.5.2 termed as Identification and traceability, which states the following three requirements;

  • Establish suitable means to identify the product

  • Identify Status of Outputs

  • Control unique ID of outputs when traceability is a requirement, and maintain records

As per this, documentation is not mandatory and needed only if the organization states that traceability is a requirement. However, if in case the parts that you produce are being supplied to those clients whose finished products are covered under warranty, or has Safety or Health implications, then your client might insist on traceability of the manufactured items. Implementing traceability in such a scenario becomes essential for efficient recall management and provides warranty cost optimization.

Obviously if your manufactured products have to conform to the Legal Metrology Act under the provision of packaged goods or commodities, then by law you have to indicate the Date of Manufacture and Batch appropriately. This logically necessitates that your manufacturing process incorporates Traceability functionality.

Even if you are not bound by the above two reasons to have traceability functionality of the manufactured items, it is advantageous as a manufacturer to adopt this system for operational cost-effectiveness. Implementing traceability is a way to ensure Product quality assurance. There is no doubt that direct and indirect cost of wastage through defective finished products is very high. Defective products not only damage the reputation with your client but not identifying the root cause or batch in time will prove costly to your operations profitability through wastage of goods as well as affect your future production delivery schedules.

Thus not only would implementing traceability impart a higher level of Quality Control, optimize production process efficiency and material resource wastages, it ultimately will benefit your organization through improved customer satisfaction. Effective Product Manufacturing relies on these principles.

In order to incorporate the Traceability capability in the produced parts, a unique coding or identification system has to be implemented to tag the individual part or a batch. There are various technologies and methods available to ensure such marking on the products. Just having a unique marking on the product is meaningless, unless it is complemented with a robust data capturing and record-keeping system.

These three components of Unique manufacturing ID, Data Capture, and Record keeping form the foundation of an effective traceability system. Implementing traceability in this manner ensures Product quality assurance. The scope of data capture points and details to be recorded against each component or batch is dependent on the perspective of Traceability requirement.

The manufactured components might be tagged with only the manufacturing date along with data of various stages of operations and its operator resources in case of internal traceability requirement. In certain cases, if the manufacturing steps have established subcontract or outsourced process, then they might include the External operations data capture too. Further depending upon the need, even the source of raw material, and its batch can be recorded if the origin of product is to be tracked.

Data such as inspection reports, PO’s, Invoice, Consignment details etc have to be interlinked along with the Unique manufacturing ID, so that there is a seamless record from origin to delivery. Capturing real time data and recordkeeping will be of paramount importance and has to be undertaken diligently.

While this used to be managed through manual paperwork during earlier times, however, the recent development in digital technologies and available software solutions have made it feasible to enable cost-effective solutions to this, even within the budget of MSME.

Timely and structured analysis of the recorded traceability data would provide valuable insights for the management. These inputs could be leveraged for multiple operational benefits such as effective Root Cause Analysis, Optimisation of Quality Control process, minimize wastage, appropriately manage supplier quality, meet compliances of product recall and ultimately satisfying customer needs comprehensively.

Hope this summary on Traceability function was helpful. We will be happy to hear your views on this. This article would be continued, wherein another essential function for effective product support would be explained.

(This is the first of a 3-part series on the topic)


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