Part & Product Traceability in Manufacturing Supply Chains

Product traceability is the process of identifying and tracking products through a supply chain. It consists in logging manufacturing information in a database and following products at every step. This information is used to minimize the cost of product recalls, fight counterfeiting, control quality, and optimize production processes.

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 laser solutions that consistently create high-contrast and permanent marks to make sure product identification is optimal.

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External Traceability

External traceability, also known as chain traceability and end-to-end traceability, is the ability to track products throughout an entire supply chain.

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, including retailers and customers. 

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 it logs the manufacturing information.

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

Why is Product Traceability Important?

Products must be traceable to manage quality issues and improve product quality. Thanks to traceability programs, manufacturers in the automotive, primary metals, aerospace, and other manufacturing 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 Recall That Changed The Law

In 2000, the importance of traceability was made abundantly clear when 23 million Firestone and Ford tires were recalled in the United States. This massive recall led to the adoption of the  TREAD act, an important step for more traceability regulations in the US. The recalled products included all tires of two specific sizes produced between the years 1991 and 2000 in all Firestone plants.

Current Trends In Traceability

Nowadays, traceability systems try to limit the negative impact of recalls by knowing exactly which products are defective and locating where they are quickly. Manufacturers do this by replacing batch numbers with serial numbers. 

While batch numbers use the same identification number for a whole production batch, serial numbers use a different number for each part. This provides access to more accurate production chain history, allowing manufacturers to identify the root cause of a failure more accurately, quickly recall defective products, and limit the number of products recalled.

Preventing Recalls With Quality Control

Monitoring product information in databases can be used to prevent recalls. With statistical process control (SPC), it’s possible to monitor and control manufacturing processes in real time. Quality control engineers use this information to identify nonconformities before products hit the market, and deal with production issues as early as possible by identifying trends in statistics.


Improving automotive traceability directly in the production line


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, our metal engraving machines offer permanent marks, high contrasts, and reliability. Here’s why each factor helps with readability and part traceability.



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.

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.


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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