Track & trace or traceability is the ability to follow a product or a batch of products through the different stages of its life cycle: production, packaging, logistics/distribution, consumption, recycling/destruction.
Traceability in production identifies and records for a product the elements part of the product. It is the most important stage of traceability and often the one that is mandatory from a regulatory point of view.
Traceability at the packaging stage identifies the packaging batches used. This stage of traceability is important when the product is in direct contact with the packaging since this one can contaminate the product.
The logistic traceability identifies the destination of the products or batches of products. It is important in the case of a recall.
Traceability of the products in the distribution network is useful in case of parallel markets. It gives the opportunity to identify which distributor has received which product. It is also very useful in case of a recall.
In some markets it is possible to have a product/consumer traceability to know who bought each product.
This type of traceability is possible only if the solution respect consumers privacy rights.
Traceability is also becoming an important element for the tracking of products and packaging reconditioned for a second life.
WHAT DOES THE REGULATION REQUIRE IN TERMS OF TRACEABILITY?
There is no direct answer to this question, as regulations vary according to the country and the sector of activity.
It is therefore recommended to find out about the regulations in force in your sector of activity and in the country of destination of the products.
The tracking by lot number is often the minimum required whatever the sector of activity. However, in some sectors it is now mandatory to identify each product in a unitary manner, which implies a need for serialization.
The traceability must allow at any time for a product or a batch of products to know its composition and the different elements that could have an impact on the quality of a product. The goal is to be able to proceed with a product recall in case of risk for the consumers/users.
Identifying a product or a group of products is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the implementation of traceability.
To trace it is necessary to identify and record the data associated with each stage of the life cycle concerned. The management of information relating to traceability can be done in a manual way.
The implementation of a traceability software such as CertiTRACK is however recommended in order to keep accurate and easily exploitable data.
The traceability to the batch is the most basic traceability.
A batch must be made of a set of products with the same characteristics.
Any change of batch of one of the components should lead to a change of production Lot number.
The marking of the batch number can be completed by the date/hour/ min/sec of production in order to determine more precisely the moment when the product is passed on the line.
The larger the batch size, the less reliable the traceability.
Lot traceability is relatively simple to implement.
It requires at least a marking system and a follow-up of the batch numbers.
The traceability of the batch does not allow to know systematically the exact composition of a product with all the components constituting it.
Moreover, the follow-up of the batches is relatively complicated when it is a question of following the products in the distribution network. When the batch sizes are large, traceability is not very reliable. It is possible to increase the reliability by reducing the batch sizes
Serialization or item level traceability consists in giving each product a unique reference.
Each product has its own batch number.
Serialization is the most accurate track & trace system that can be deployed. It allows to record in association with each reference all the elements having affected a product.
Serialization of products allows the aggregation of the numbers of each product when they are packaged in grouping boxes. The grouping boxes are also identified individually to be tracked. The aggregation continues up to the pallet which is also serialized. Serialization with product/carton/pallet aggregation provides accurate tracking of each product through all stages of the product life cycle.
Serialization imposes a unitary identification of the products but also a recording of the data associated with each stage of the life cycle of the product.
It is a more complex and expensive solution than simple batch traceability. To work the serialized reference must be machine readable (datamatrix, QR Code, RFID, NFC).
The traceability to the batch is done in a simple way with a marking by ink jet or laser in the form of alphanumeric characters interpretable with the eye.
The implementation of barcode can be done with inkjet or thermal transfer printing.
The implementation of barcode facilitates the rereading and thus the follow-up of the products in the life cycle.
Bar codes are not very functional for serialization.
The implementation of 2D codes such as datamatrix or QR Code allows to have a code containing more data than a bar code with a reduced surface. 2D codes are ideal for serialization.
Datamatrix or QR Codes can be marked with high definition inkjet, laser or thermal transfer.
RFID or NFC contactless chips are interesting for serialization projects requiring remote reading or reading in a product container.
Beware of the environment of use since liquids and metals negatively affect the readability of the chips.
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