What is supply chain traceability for?

The information to trust everything is fine

traces data visualisation traceability Shellock

First, what is traceability?

Where and what exactly have my goods been through? Traceability answers this question.


In simple words, traceability is the capability to trace events chronologically in a verifiable manner. We can think of it as the biography of a given item before it reaches the hands of the user. Traceability can start as early as the first raw materials are obtained, providing interesting information regarding where was it obtained and the followed procedures. Then for each transport and manipulation we can keep adding further updates to an item traceability record. Information can detail what company or entity did what, which methodologies or treatments were done, and any associated certifications or relevant events. The updates are added chronologically. Finally, by the time this item is completed and delivered to the end user, traceability provides transparently the history of the product. 


After the item or product it used, nowadays we can go one step further and add information regarding the disposal of that item, completing the end-to-end lifecycle traceability.


Still, why is it getting more and more popular? Let’s picture that in a given process there is a problem, and a number of items are delivered to the consumer with a fault. By the time this issue is discovered, which could have been caused in a factory or due to problems during transport, there will be a number of items already in the hands of the final user. We must remember that we cannot go back in time and fix the issue, but Traceability is the next best available solution.


All this information can provide to us as a users or consumers of a product great trust in our providers. Traceability enables us to have the certainty we are using a quality product that fulfills our expectations. Among other uses discussed in other articles, having information regarding the origin of the goods, procedures and the workforce definitely enhances sustainable products credibility and contributes achieving UN’s SDGs.


How traceability is used in the supply chain


The primary raw goods, independently of whether these are supplied from farms, forests or quarries just to name a few, are transported to a manufacturing processing site. Then after some more transactions the finished product is lastly available at a distribution center or retailer. Different parties, each one contributes with their own services to the completion of the product. And in between all the different processing and distribution stages we rely on different modes of transports. 


Traceability in the supply chain means having the capability to track and trace the goods or products as they move along the supply chain.


Examples of traced events are transactions, locations or any type of processes done to the materials or goods. Traceability enables knowing when, where, whom and how a process was conducted. From the time a process is started until its completion, It is the complete registry of all those mentioned events. The formal definition of traceability according to ISO 9000-2005, is ”the ability to determine the history, use or location of a specific entity”. We can think of it as the bio of a product.


Cargo and information flow traceability in the supply chain
Cargo and information flow traceability in the supply chain

What traceability enables

The collection of all updates from the different procedures, inspections and modes of transportations and the access to it might be challenging. All involved parties should contribute by sharing the updates or traces. If all the data is scattered in different platforms, accessing to each trace and it’s effective use get quite challenging if not impossible. This is the reason for striving towards gathering those traces in a single silo. This is something we make feasible. In supply chains, the good practices of each party directly affects the other participants, especially those downstream. The shift in mindset, in which each one tries to work together as smooth as possible by making information as accessible as possible, originated the concept of collaborative logistics.


Traceability in supply chains enables rapidly accessing to the required information. Especially useful for quality checks and verifying compliance. Newer digital solutions are game changers. Having the information regarding the conditions in which the goods were transported, quickly enables to discern if the conditions were satisfactory, or there was any parameter surpassing the required parameters,such as time in transit, temperature, manipulations or shocks. The end user or consumer has the certainty of having a safe and quality product.


If there is any unforeseen event in the supply chain it will be possible to promptly react to correct it. If it is too late for that and the disruption is not corrigible like having the goods damaged beyond repair, the delivery of such defective items are rerouted. Due to its health and safety implications, traceability has been mandated by national or international regulations for many industries or specific types of products such as pharma, aircraft parts, foods and especially those foods with a protected designation of origin. Instead of having the receiver coping with useless goods, all this effort and waste of time and resources can be prevented. Such practices make the overall supply chain more efficient and improves its resiliency.