Systems to track and trace goods are crucial to proper supply chain management. Traceability software helps improve product security and safety, mitigates risk, improves on-time delivery rates, controls costs, hastens regulatory compliance and helps troubleshoot customer problems.
While many industries are affected by the need for traceability, those businesses that are customer-facing have increased pressure to develop robust systems. The consequences of failure to implement reliable systems can be significant, and, in many cases, life-threatening, if traceability systems cannot locate sources of contaminated or defective products.
Supply chain traceability
A recent panel discussion at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics highlighted some of the many challenges facing those seeking a software solution to traceability concerns. There are many players with different technologies, many choices, and the lack of a single standard. Integration of solutions with existing technologies and systems is crucial for future success.
Other downsides to some existing technologies include the lack of complete traceability; instead, products and materials are only traced partially at certain stages. Data is not communicated well, or at all, if trading partners have incompatible systems or no procedures for sharing.
The primacy of traceability in supply chain management is often an institutional issue, with companies not seeing an obvious return on investment for purchasing and implementing such systems. The inability to evaluate the solutions, with the difficulty in using data both to identify inefficiencies and to support risk management, cause additional frustrations.
Challenges for food companies
A recently published study by Kaitlin Wowak, a Notre Dame assistant professor, reveals three core issues facing food companies for traceability. Wowak’s work, published in the Journal of Business Logistics (subscription required), highlights each issue:
- Temporality. Time is a major issue for food companies, straining their ability to track products. Many items are perishable. There is also often a lag in the time between when an issue is discovered and a response provided.
- Permeation. There are so many different supply chain systems through which a product travels, it can be difficult to track and recall products promptly.
- Ambiguity. For some products, it is unclear where the source issue lies. Consider blended products with lots of source ingredients. Another challenging scenario is product commingling, which is a scenario where different sources provide the same product for food batches.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 150 food recalls in 2015, the largest total in a decade. Traceability is more imperative than ever and mitigates not just safety, but also the costs associated with a recall.
Types of solutions vary
The large number of options available to food companies today only adds to the traceability complexity. Inexpensive alphanumerical codes are one option, but are heavily manual dependent. Other options include bar codes, GIS and RFID tags. Future solutions may involve blockchain, the computer technology behind the virtual currency Bitcoin.
With NexTec Group, companies gain access to experienced consultants with in-depth product knowledge of the various traceability software solutions, their ease of integration, and compatibility with existing systems. NexTec Group staff work closely to understand the traceability needs of each customer and recommend the right solution. Download the NexTec Food Brochure to understand how NexTec Group can assist with your traceability and system integration needs.