Lot traceability in manufacturing has made a lot of headlines recently. We’ve all read how a popular automaker has been under fire in recent years for their quality problems.
You can just imagine how devastating it must be to find out that a product you’ve been shipping for years is subject to a recall for a quality defect. The government inspection agency will be pressuring you for a successful recall as quickly as possible and you’re going to need to access information fast. You will need a reliable lot traceability system.
The first step in damage control would be to completely understand the underlying cause of the problem. Many times the fault lies in one of the raw materials used to manufacture the product. In that case, strong lot tracing functionality can be the difference between recalling millions vs. recalling thousands or less.
What is Lot Traceability?
Lot traceability, also called lot tracking, lot control or manufacturing traceability, means that you know which supplier lots were used in which finished products, and who received those finished products. With a lot traceability system, you have a way to track problem goods from the customer, all the way back to the supplier who sent the raw materials, and all the stages in between.
Lot Control and Traceability: Defining the Steps
There are a variety of ways to achieve lot traceability, including manually on paper, by using electronic spreadsheets, or through the use of an integrated system like IQMS. In any case, some important steps that must be taken.
Step One: Track Materials When Received
The first step begins when the raw materials are purchased and received. At that time the vendor lot number of the container of material is communicated to your ERP system. This communication can take many forms such as a vendor supplied advance shipping notice (EDI ASN), bar coded labels or packing slips. However it’s done, the lot number must follow the raw material until it is consumed by the next level product.
Many times an agreement can be made with the vendor to supply customer defined labeling for serialized control that can be sent electronically via EDI to the ERP system. This method eliminates the cost and accuracy issues of relabeling while converting foreign vendor labels to ERP native serialized labels.
Business rules for manual receipts include being able to set up mandatory lot number entry before the transaction is allowed to go through.
Use an inventory control system to keep the material container lot numbers separated from each other. This separation must be built into the system and cause minimal burden to the user.
As an example, a warehouse inventory location can contain many lots of the same material but they all need to be listed by FIFO and accessible for allocation or back flushing individually.
Step Two: Track Materials Through Production
The third step is to have the system generate and assign a manufacturing (FG) lot number to the products being produced in real time. All levels of products including sub assemblies will be assigned FG lot numbers during production.
Typically the generation of a new FG lot number happens when an event takes place. Events are things like starting a new raw material lot number, machine restarts or even operator changes. As a rule, the more often FG lot numbers are changed the more granular the lot traceability will be making it easier to pinpoint critical information.
Step Three: Track Finished Goods To Customer
The third step occurs during production reporting via hand scanners, touch screens, automated conveyors, pallet wrappers or input screens. The result of the reporting is a “balanced” inventory transaction. A balanced transaction includes adding the parts that were manufactured and relieving the raw material used to make them.
As the transactions are applied to the perpetual inventory they are logged in the transaction log. All inventory transactions are logged. No exception. The transaction log is the key to lot number traceability. It contains all kinds of information about the transactions including both FG lot number and raw material lot number fields. This creates the ability to query the transaction log to cross reference lot number “trees”.
Incorporating these three steps during the normal production reporting and inventory transaction process will provide you with bulletproof and pain-free manufacturing traceability systems.
Traceability Software for Manufacturing
IQMS provides best in class lot tracking software for manufacturing which can help ease the lot tracking burden for your company. With our manufacturing traceability software, you can be assured your information is available quickly and accurately.