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Why is Traceability so Important in Manufacturing?

January 16, 2023 — by Gurmeet Singh

What’s the cost of bad eggs? 

Several dozen crates of (bad) eggs leave a grading facility and go to a major chain of supermarkets. Some days later, complaints of illness pour in. It makes national news. A personal disaster for the ill customers; a massive reputational blow to the supermarket, the egg grading facility, and the egg producers. 

Of course, all three would have done all they could do to mitigate the likelihood of shipping contaminated or damaged goods. But in this event, they would have used tracking methods to follow each batch of eggs from production, grading and shipping so that a product recall for the remaining eggs could be conducted. 

Now, imagine it’s not a batch of eggs, but a plane or a car under discussion. And instead of contamination with Salmonella, we’re talking about batches of faulty screws, or improperly designed parts. The potential consequences could be far worse. This is why traceability is so important for manufacturing: Especially because machines and vehicles can be composed of many thousands of parts, or more. 

What is Traceability?

Traceability is the ability to track raw materials, works-in-progress, and finished goods through a manufacturing process using data. Data points are connected across the process, so manufacturers can see where a single part comes from, and which product it ends up in. 

Let’s go back to the batch of screws: By connecting the data points of each screw through the process, a manufacturer can say, “ah this batch of screws, from supplier X, ended up in the motors of 35 of the 100 cars we produced today”.

This end-to-end system from raw-material to product is important because manufacturers are literally dealing with tens of thousands of parts per day. Keeping track of each individual part is impossible without a sophisticated data management tool. 

Using Data to Fight Fires and Save Lives

In manufacturing, large volumes of traceability data are stored, and can have a transformational impact on a business. Let’s go back to the dangerous car again: A part is found to be faulty, but it has ended up in several hundred vehicles which have already been shipped to showrooms. 

They are no longer roadworthy, so the only way to know that a recall was necessary, is to wait for consumer complaints, right? In this context, since that would mean something a little more serious than eating a bad egg, it is completely unacceptable: For the consumer, other road users, the showroom workers, the manufacturers and the reputation of the car brand. 

Analysis of traceability data means that you don’t have to wait for the fateful moment, however. By looking at the data, a manufacturer can see if a part is faulty before a car has been sold or even shipped. A product recall can be done quickly and efficiently with the precise product batches that have been affected, radically reducing the amount of time and money spent on firefighting. 

There’s a Lot More to Traceability than Product Recalls

This is just the barest of outlines about what traceability can achieve. Product recall is just one use case, but there are a lot more opportunities created out of tracking a component from raw material to output through production. From providing a basis to optimize processes, to enabling understanding of product sustainability, traceability data about products will prove central to manufacturing for the future.

Traceability demands integrating data from many systems: Exactly what KNIME does. With a proven set of use-cases within manufacturing, KNIME is enabling companies with large product portfolios to perform Traceability for all their components. Read more about Manufacturing Analytics for Enterprises.

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