I see buyers who spend a lot of time pushing their suppliers to do QC inspections on incoming components, to keep the production area clean, to give clear instructions to operators, and other basics. But I seldom hear them push for traceability in manufacturing, despite how important it is. I thought I should write about it again.
Why traceability in manufacturing is important
In some industries (e.g. electronics), it is common to see each product having its own and unique barcode. I have seen setups where, from one sample of the finished good, I could see on what equipment and by what operators it had been processed. In the best cases, this can go upstream through fabrication processes (including at key suppliers’ facilities).
Think about the benefits, when it comes to quality management:
- A critical issue is found? Don’t put in quarantine (or, God forbid, recall) the whole batch. Identify what caused that issue and put aside only the pieces that are likely to also exhibit that same issue.
- A severe issue is found? Let’s follow the trail, which is still visible. It was soldered on this workstation, not the others, so let’s observe it. (Granted, a production organization closer to one-piece flow will help tremendously here too.)
What you want to avoid an example I wrote before about, in this article about forward and backward traceability:
Let’s say some metal pieces don’t fit well and this is found at the assembly stage. It typically unfolds as follows:
- We look at the faulty parts. They are off-tolerance in some critical-to-quality dimensions.
- We go to the preceding process, for example CNC milling. Unfortunately, the faulty parts were processed 6 days ago and since then they have done a new setup and are working on another part.
- We ask which of the CNC machines worked on these parts. Nobody knows, since 3 machines worked on that part at the same time.
- We ask when, and on what machine and what mold, the faulty parts were forged. Again, nobody knows.
- We ask what material lot (purchased from an outside supplier) they were part of. Again, nobody knows. They might even have spent months in the warehouse, since FIFO (first-in-first-out) is not respected and the logs can’t be trusted.
In most industries, having a unique identification at the batch level is already a win. There is room for improvement, to be sure, but it does limit the extent of any recall.
What does ISO 9001:2015 say about this? Basically, it is not always a must. (That’s why it is often kept outside of most quality audits.)
The organization shall control the unique identification of the outputs when traceability is a requirement, and shall retain the documented information necessary to enable traceability.
The basics of traceability
What do you want your suppliers to do, as a minimum?
1. Place an identification on each product – a recall might take place as products are already installed at the point of use, or are in the hands of consumers.
It doesn’t have to be in the form of a barcode or QR code. In our Dongguan facility, where we do some inspection & repacking work, we have machines to engrave codes on metal or glass (the latter was not a small investment, but it is used pretty much every week).
I explain it in this video:
2. Place an identification on each export carton, on each inner carton/bag (if any), and on each retail box (if any).
This is usually in the form of printed text or barcodes (directly on the box, or on stickers). This will make identification and segregation easier if the goods are in a warehouse or in stores.
Have you had good success implementing traceability in manufacturing at your suppliers’ factories? How have they done it? Please let us know.
This FREE eBook starts from the beginning, discussing whether you need to hire a sourcing agent, and follows the sourcing process right through to developing a trusted supplier’s quality and productivity.
There are 15 chapters over 80+ pages to explore, providing exhaustive guidance on the entire sourcing and supplier development process from start to finish, including:
- Identifying suppliers,
- Quality inspections,
- Developing Chinese suppliers,
- Improving factory quality and productivity,
- and much more…