Why Smart Factories Need End-to-End Traceability

Why Smart Factories Need End-to-End Traceability

With a traceability infrastructure, you can gather insight-rich data that helps improve manufacturing processes, compliance and supply chain management.

By Dave Sweet, president, MECCO

Editor's Note: This article is adapted from a white paper, "Smarter Factories Use Traceability: Achieving the Benefits of Data with Direct Part Marking." Download the full white paper, which explores modern track-and-trace requirements; explains how to navigate perceived roadblocks such as cost, cybersecurity concerns and ROI and highlights common solutions for implementing end-to-end traceability; provides a step-by-step guide to making the transition; explains how to construct a scalable traceability system; and more.

Welcome to the age of the smart industrial plant. This is where operations technology (OT) and IT converge; digital technology connects people, processes and things into a single, seamless unified infrastructure; and data helps us identify new, exciting opportunities. While more manufacturing companies are adopting new data-enabling technologies, becoming a true smart manufacturing operation requires one essential element: end-to-end traceability.

With a traceability infrastructure in place, you can gather insight-rich data that helps you achieve better efficiency and profitability, both within your plant operations and throughout the entire supply chain.

However, most manufacturers aren’t capitalizing on this data. In a recent study of manufacturing companies, LNS Research found that only 23% had end-to-end traceability processes and software in place. So, let’s look at why smart plants need modern track-and-trace capabilities.

Why End-to-End Traceability?

Manufacturers big and small are facing mounting challenges. For example, product recalls are on the rise. Stout’s 2017 Automotive Warranty and Recall Report uncovered that U.S.-based automotive OEMs and suppliers paid accruals of more than $10 billion because of the 50 million warranty and recall incidents.

Also, counterfeit and diverted goods costs companies $500 billion in U.S. trade, according to the World Customs Organization. And at the same time, organizations are struggling to continually improve operational efficiencies to stay profitable and competitive.

Without complete end-to-end traceability, it can be tough to stay ahead of the competition, meet deadlines, keep customers happy and comply with regulations.

As an essential part of Industry 4.0, complete traceability still ranks among the technologies industry companies are slow to adopt. However, the trend is pushing toward more companies embracing it.

In a study of manufacturing companies, LNS Research found that while only 23% had the processes and software in place to enable end-to-end traceability, around 60% stated they plan to have these processes and software in the next year. This suggests manufacturers recognize the importance of product traceability.

Basics of Part Marking

There are different ways to approach traceability. Discrete part traceability — the use of individual component-level marks — is typically the most effective at enabling end-to-end traceability, because each part can be linked within a final assembly.

A number of popular methods can create these discrete part-traceability marks. Direct part marking is the best method to ensure readable marks are permanent and durable. Other indirect methods, such as ink jet printing and labeling, are commonly used because they offer low initial costs.

Among direct part-marking equipment, laser and pin (or dot peen) marking systems are the most popular, capable of creating permanent marks quickly on a variety of materials. Direct part marking with laser or dot-peen equipment can create durable barcodes that connect the part to a database, allowing it to be tracked through plant-level operations to final assembly, and then traced for the life of that product.

To succeed at end-to-end traceability with discrete part marking, it’s important to mark components at the soonest possible moment in the manufacturing process. This lets you see the entire life cycle of each part and maximize the value of your data, so you can spot production issues or trends and make proactive improvements.

Room to Grow

Smart manufacturing is here. Traceability isn’t a box to check and can’t be done in a vacuum. It is developing an infrastructure with direct component marking and integrated software to generate the data needed to analyze, make improvements and compete in a global market.

While we as an industry have come a long way in adopting smart technologies and using data to improve manufacturing processes and supply chain management, we still have plenty of room to grow.  

MECCO, based in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, is an EncompassTM Product Partner in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetworkTM program. The company provides industrial product marking and identification systems. Its laser and dot-peen marking solutions range from modular marking systems to fully integrated turnkey traceability solutions.






The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.

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