The Value of Digital Traceability in Manufacturing

April 26, 2019


Traceability data is the digital record of all events that have occurred and have had an effect on a product. Like a video-tape, data is gathered throughout the life cycle of production, recording materials added, tools used, process steps executed, test results and readings.

A common issue with traceability is the difficulty to agree exactly what data needs to be collected. IPC-1782 is the first traceability data specification standard for the whole of the electronics industry, containing a clear specification of the parameters that should be recorded, as applicable to product classification and risk assessment.

The use of the standard avoids the frequent and somewhat painful experience, where customers and suppliers debate about what data is required, what is cost-effective, how it should be collected, reported and stored. Having different expectations in the market is very confusing and often leads to scenarios where the expected data was not captured correctly, resulting in wasted time and effort,  zero value, disappointed customers, and potential liabilities.

Quality Management

Traceability data is an excellent everyday quality management tool.

In a batch of a thousand products, there may be a single defect recorded. Normally, the cause of such one-off defects are almost impossible to locate with any certainty, as different defect occurrences seem to just come and go at random. With dependable and detailed traceability data, analysis can discover the exact unique combination of circumstances and events that lead to the occurrence of the defect.

As part of the best digital Quality Management Systems which feature integrated administrative quality functions, such as corrective action management, procedures can be defined and put into place to ensure that the unique combination of factors is never allowed to reoccur. The scope of the corrective action components can include other products in similar processes to widen the benefit gained. In addition, the knowledge and understanding of the unique circumstances behind the defect means that the other products in the lot or work-order in which the defect was found can be trusted not to have the same defect.


Electronics have become a critical part of so many areas of manufacturing and the reliability of electronic products is critical. It is a fact of life that products may fail in the market, sometimes due to a fault or weakness, but also due to use or treatment beyond design intent. As a result, there are cases where critical failures occur, where the responsibility for the failure needs to be quickly assessed. The manufacturer is often seen as a likely source of a hidden defect, as this is where almost all actions were taken for creation of the product.

Conformance and compliance to agreed rules and procedures protect the manufacturer, proving there was no mistake or deviation in the manufacturing of a defective product that they were responsible for. The traceability data within the digital build record can satisfy requirements, protecting the manufacturer from costly legal proceedings, as well as protecting the company image.

Counterfeit Materials

Unfortunately, counterfeit materials can be found in manufacturing. An effective deterrent has to be created, proof that a specific carrier of material purchased, contained counterfeit material before responsibility can be passed to the supplier. Where suppliers have become trusted over many years, now with the likelihood of receiving counterfeit materials growing, costly incoming inspection procedures need to be reinstated.

The counterfeiters are also very clever, in that they know how to package materials so as to defeat simple sampling procedures. To quickly reinstate Incoming Quality Control (IQC) processes as a part of a modern digital MES solution is already an essential tool to minimize effect and risk of existing counterfeit materials in the supply-chain. Without this, detection is often only made when the failure of a product occurs in manufacturing, or even in the market.

Having the full traceability digital build record means that even though significant time may have passed since the material was used, the responsibility for exactly where a counterfeit material came from can be clearly traced. In addition, any other product, either in the factory or shipped, that also used materials from the identified carrier can be identified and necessary action taken ahead of potential failure. Any liability for the recall of products is minimized as specific serial numbers and potentially owners, can be contacted directly, resulting in a very significantly reduced impact to both the company that owns the logo on the product as well as the manufacturer.

The good news about digital traceability, even in terms of just the values illustrated here, clearly exceed the remnants of any costs associated with traceability data collection by orders of magnitude. The digital build record, as an integrated part of a modern digital MES designed with IoT, is the essential solution to reduce the costs and risks of day to day manufacturing operation risk, a must for the successful companies of the future.

Trust your manufacturing data with Sustained Quality Group. For more details, contact us.

Ford, Michael. (2018). “The Importance of Digital Traceability In Manufacturing”. Retrieved from