Mention traceability to a lot of engineers, and they’ll say that their industry doesn’t require it, and so they don’t get involved with that. And it’s true — a lot of traceability requirements have come from industry or governmental mandate, in areas such as medical, automotive, aerospace, and food and beverage.
At a recent trade show in California, I was chatting with Keith Kersten, Marketing Group Manager for Omron, and he pointed out that as customers demand more from their suppliers, that traceability makes sense for more and more manufacturers.
“Traceability is no longer just regulatory, it also allows you to see as things flow through your process to identify bottlenecks. Also, it can help you optimize each process and then your overall supply chain,” Kersten said. “As you’re trying to gather all this data about what you’re producing and how you’re producing it, this also becomes kind of a baseline or a base of input to that.”
Everyone’s talking about connectivity and the Internet of Things, and the factory of the future will be much more able to trace everything. But that’s no reason not to start down the path to traceability now.
For each item you produce, you’re able to start understanding how long it spends with each process, Kersten explained. You also learn how long it spent not being processed. Then, if you start to have any issues along the way, whether it’s at the end of the process or during the process, you can start to track all of those things — and you can identify problem spots a lot quicker. Maybe you realize you could invest in a little bit more automation in one particular spot, and that would allow your overall flow to increase.
In a lot of ways, traceability can end up being more of a long-term benefit to a manufacturing operation than just a mandated item designed to help end customers, meet regulations, or control recalls. If it can make your processes more efficient and your manufacturing operations speedier, why wouldn’t you consider it?