Part & Product Traceability in Manufacturing Supply Chains

Product traceability makes it possible to access manufacturing information for each individual part that is produced. Having products identified in a database makes it possible to follow them through every stage of production, to know their origin and current location, and to act on that information.

Choosing the right marking system is at the core of a good traceability solution. Barcode readers can only scan data matrix codes, QR codes, barcodes, and serial numbers if they’re readable. Laserax offers reliable lasers that create high-contrast, permanent marks.

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External Traceability

External traceability, also known as chain traceability and end-to-end traceability, offers complete traceability information throughout an entire supply chain.

This allows two things: to track and trace products. Anyone downstream in the supply chain can trace the origin of products up to the raw materials. And, anyone upstream in the supply chain can track where products are, even up to the consumers.

Internal Traceability

Internal traceability offers traceability information, but only within a production facility. It includes knowing where products are coming from and where they’re going, and provides manufacturing information.

To achieve external traceability, each actor in the supply chain must implement an internal traceability system.

Why is Product Traceability Important?

Product traceability is an effective tool for managing quality issues as well as ensuring and improving product quality. Thanks to traceability programs, manufacturers of all tiers in the automotive, primary metals, and other industries can minimize the costs of product recalls, fight product counterfeiting, monitor production processes for quality control, and optimize those processes for quality assurance.

The most well-known product recall in the United States totalized 23 million tires. This recall, known as the Firestone and Ford tire controversy, led to the adoption of the TREAD act, an important step toward more regulatory requirements for traceability in the US. Part of the recalled products included all tires of two specific sizes produced between the years 1991 and 2000 in all Firestone plants.

An effective traceability system can limit the negative impact of recalls by knowing exactly where defective products are. Serial numbers provide access to production chain history, giving manufacturers the opportunity to quickly recall products and to limit the number of products recalled.

The traceability information stored in databases can also be used to prevent recalls. With statistical process control (SPC), it’s possible to monitor and control manufacturing processes in real time. This is used to ensure quality, identify nonconformities before products hit the market, and deal with production issues as early as possible—usually before they even happen—by identifying trends in statistics.

 

 

Laser Marking: The Perfect Solution for Part Traceability

When traceability is mandatory, parts must be scrapped if codes can’t be read. Laser marking provides the best readability rates, which results in a higher return on investment.

To achieve the best readability, Laserax solutions offer permanent marks, high contrasts, and reliability. Here’s why each factor helps with readability and part traceability.

 

Permanent
Marks

When it comes to direct part marking, a permanent mark is a mark that remains readable within the part’s lifecycle. Truly permanent marks are adapted to processes in your production line and to the expected use of your parts.

At Laserax, the laser marking process is adapted to each application to always provide full traceability. For example, stainless steel exhaust lines can be marked to stay corrosion resistant, as those parts are exposed to highly corrosive acids during their lifetime. Also, parts that undergo surface treatments can keep their high readability rate after treatments like e-coating, heat treating, and shotblasting.

Reliable
Marking Systems

Without a reliable marking technology, the codes’ quality will be inconsistent and decrease over time. Parts with low-quality codes will have to be scrapped to avoid losing trace of them, which affects profitability.

The marking quality of laser systems is consistent because their components don’t deteriorate due to mechanical wear. Laser marking systems have no moving parts, and their components never touch the parts they mark.

Fiber laser systems manufactured by Laserax work well in the harshest industrial conditions and require low maintenance. The laser head is IP67 certified, the laser source has a mean time between failures of 100,000 hours, and the system doesn’t use any consumables.

High-Contrast
Marks

Marks can be hard to read if their dark and light elements are poorly contrasted. There are standard rules for evaluating the quality of 2D codes marked with a direct part marking technology. A high contrast is one of them.

By using different energy densities, laser marking can generate high-contrast white marks on a black background, or black marks on a white background.

Laserax optimizes each marking process to achieve the best contrast for 2D codes, as was done when optimizing the laser marking performance for aluminum.

 

How Do Other Traceability Methods Compare?

When it comes to manufacturing traceability, traditional marking methods like dot peening, inkjet printing, and labelling have been used for decades for part and product identification. Laser marking is an adaptive technology that offers solutions for each problem encountered with those methods.

 

Labels and nameplates

Tags like labels and nameplates aren’t permanent. Identifiers are on a tag that can fall off, especially during surface treatments. This method also comes with recurring costs for high-tech labels and ink.

 

Laser Marking Advantages

  • Permanent identifiers can withstand surface treatments
  • No consumable costs

Pin Stamping or Dot Peen Marking

Dot peened markings have a poor readability rate due their low contrast. More often than not, special lighting conditions are needed to allow barcode scanners to read data matrix codes and serial numbers. If surface treatments are included in the production process, chances are marks will become unreadable.

Dot peening systems are slow and unreliable. They must withstand continuous mechanical shocks and vibrations. As such, they require regular maintenance and increase the scrap rate.

 

Laser Marking Advantages

  • High resolution and high contrast identifiers
  • Better resistance to surface treatments
  • Reliable systems that require little maintenance
  • Faster marking speed

Inkjet Printing

Inkjet printing is also an unreliable technology. Since the nozzle can become blocked or clogged, readability degrades over time and frequent maintenance is required. The markings won’t withstand chemical aggression, simple solvents, mechanical abrasion, and surface treatments. They may also smear before they dry.

Inkjet printing also comes with important consumable costs. It requires high-quality ink, and it must be implemented safely to manage dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

 

Laser Marking Advantages

  • Permanent identifiers can withstand surface treatments
  • Reliable systems that require little maintenance
  • No consumable costs
  • No contaminants and environmental safety management

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