Improving traceability in the supply chain

By Jonathon Wilkins

Supermarkets across the UK are recalling thousands of meals containing egg after the news of contamination. However, it’s not just the food industry that is affected by product recalls. Recalls can be expensive and damaging to many industries as producers and manufacturers appear less reliable. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at obsolete parts supplier, EU Automation, explains how automation can improve traceability in manufacturing.

In summer 2017, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) discovered that over 700,000 contaminated eggs from Dutch and Belgian farms were distributed to the UK. The final destination of each egg was unclear, so thousands of salads, sandwiches and other meals containing egg, were recalled from supermarkets.

Manufacturers can control product origin, status and location, while meeting industry standards by automating tracking and tracing processes. Automated technology improves visibility in the supply chain while optimising production, with the aim of preventing recalls.

In addition to meeting regulations, manufacturers can improve customer satisfaction and create a cost-efficient supply chain by investing in technology. Manufacturers can achieve just in time (JIT) delivery and lean manufacturing through increased tracking and tracing. Both these processes promote a zero-waste factory, preventing defective products from leaving the factory and decreasing overall waste.

Tracking or tracing
Tracking and tracing are two different, yet important, processes in manufacturing. Tracking monitors the movement of a product through each stage of the manufacturing process. It mainly involves monitoring the location of a product, where it has been and the length of time taken to manufacture it.

Tracing, on the other hand, shows the authentication of the manufacturing process, identifying product origin and condition. Traceability is required for quality and risk prevention and proves that all product components have been sourced and assembled to the customer’s requirements.

Increasing visibility in both of these processes is beneficial for both manufacturers and customers. Manufacturers can optimise production for a more cost-efficient supply chain. Customers are also assured of product quality as they can see where products are sourced, how they are built and how they are delivered.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the main technology that manufacturers use to both track and trace products. RFID technology uses radio waves to communicate information between a tag, consisting of a microchip and aerial, and a reading device.

These tags contain electronically stored information about the product, such as its origin, location and availability, that manufacturers can read and adapt.

Each product is given a unique code, so that individual products can be tracked throughout the process of supply, assembly and delivery. However, several tags can also be read at once to efficiently check batches of products.

RFID tags are useful in controlling product stock and securing it. Tracing the product from its origin also allows manufacturers to monitor product quality and shelf life to remove any faulty items. More visibility in both tracking and tracing from RFID tags helps manufacturers to provide cost-efficient and high-quality products to customers.

Kanban is a scheduling system first implemented by Toyota to achieve JIT delivery. This supports the production line and allows manufacturers to visually manage work.

Manufacturers can reduce waste by implementing a paperless, electronic Kanban (eKanban) system. This allows everyone to view workflow and production and edit the system in real time, reducing the risk of mistakes.

Improved visibility of product quality and processes can optimise production both on the factory floor and in administration. Efficient manufacturing reduces waste and avoids recalls caused by defective products, preventing scandals such as the contaminated eggs.

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