The need for greater supply chain clarity and visibility is growing.
Whether it concerns finding the source of foodborne illness or recalling faulty auto parts, global supply chain tracking requirements--right down to the ingredient or part level--are increasing.
For example, in the food supply chain, the Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act will soon require more traceability. New mandates for tracing and tracking drugs are in the recently passed Safeguarding America's Pharmaceuticals Act. In the automotive and medical-device supply chains, recall-related tracking and tracing capabilities facilitate the notification of affected customers only.
Traceability requires three elements:
For example, Zeltwanger Automation, which provides assembly and testing systems that are used in medical technology, the automobile industry, and in general industrial applications, produces 400,000 vacuum pumps every year. As each pump moves through the factory, it receives torque, oil pressure and flow tests. The actual values measured in the tests, along with a serial number and the date, are contained in a data matrix code etched on each part by a laser marking system. A barcode reader then captures the data and sends it to the company's IT system.
It's not new that machine vision-readable codes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and barcodes enable a logistics partner like Ryder to track individual items--in real time--as they are picked up, transported and received by the customer. What is new is for the supplier and customer to be able to acquire that data coming from the logistics partner. Not only can the items be located in transit, but also a record of the plants and distribution centers they traveled through is created for all members of the supply chain.
All those records result in massive amounts of data. Widely used enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems such as systems applications products (SAP) are now being fortified with the ability to use all that data. Among other tasks, new applications can help a company link the diverse ERP systems used in its plants, pulling together data for the whole corporation and unifying product genealogies. And should a recall be required, emerging tracking and tracing technologies allow root cause analysis to be focused specifically on where the products were made or the source of their materials.
One of the greatest concerns of supply chain managers--the need for more supply chain clarity and visibility--is now being addressed by such new capabilities for acquiring and managing this granular real-time information.
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