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Surprising Benefits Of Supply Chain Tracking

By Amy Radishofski, Features Editor, Manufacturing.netTracking and tracing can tell you more about your operations that just whether or not items were shipped to the right customer. Did you know it could help you lower costs -- and help the earth too?

In a global marketplace, it’s important for companies to have visibility into their operations and into their supply chains.

“With the options currently available to companies, manufacturers have the functionality to collect information from the plant floor and connect it to things like weigh scales and automation systems,” says Charley Rastle, Industry Marketing Manager at Rockwell Automation.

Although most companies could benefit from some form of tracking and tracing solutions, industries currently increasing their usage of the technology include the tire industry, which tracks batches of rubber, and the toy industry, which monitors safety and quality. Both industries have experienced a string of high-profile recalls, noted Marcia Walker, Program Manager, Strategic Marketing, Global Sales and Marketing at Rockwell Automation.

“For companies looking to invest in tracking and tracing, the first thing they need to do is determine what they need to accomplish,” said Rastle. “Only after that should you be worried about the technology aspect.”

Failing to define what data you need to collect first will likely cause the entire initiative to fail, according to Rastle.

“Do you need tracking to meet regulatory requirements? To track inventory? To cut back on waste? You need to decide where to attack the problem,” Rastle said.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and unsure how much of an investment you want to make, you can modify your tracking and tracing solution down the road.

“Companies can take small steps when it comes to tracking and tracing,” Rastle said. “The cost depends on how much data you’re looking to obtain, but if you put the basic infrastructure in place, you can always increase your investment and build up in the future.”

“When it comes to regulations or recalls, tracking becomes like an extra insurance policy,” Walker added.

Under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, companies are required to respond to safety concerns within 24 hours.

“A paper-based tracking system would allow you to meet that regulation without any extra investment,” Rastle noted. “But certain industries can see added benefits that can provide additional reasons to justify an additional investment.”

For example, for industries like food and beverage, using a paper-based system could add extra costs to an already expensive recall. You could be recalling more products or materials than you need to.

Moreover, companies are realizing additional benefits to tracking and tracing. If companies are willing to make an extra investment, they could end up reducing operating costs.

Some of the more surprising benefits of tracking and tracing solutions include:

A more efficient supply chain

If you have the ability to follow materials and products as they travel through your plant and your supply chain, you can identify areas of waste.

“Waste is one of the biggest cost factors for manufacturers,” Rastle noted. “Pinpointing problem areas will benefit your entire operation.”

The ability to check your raw materials usage

With the cost of raw materials rapidly increasing, efficiency is key. To cut down on your expenses, you need to eliminate any unnecessary buffer materials.

“Companies use business systems to monitor their raw materials, but these systems assume a standard amount of materials,” according to Rastle. “Instead of maintaining a ‘safety stock,’ manufacturers can track their actual usage and find answers to questions such as ‘How much water are we really using?’”

Custom manufacturing

“Tracking is important when you have custom manufacturing,” Walker added. “If you usually make red shoelaces, but a particular customer asks for blue, you need to be sure that the right product is going to the right person at the right time.”

Boosting customer satisfaction can help you keep an edge over your competitors.

Sustainability options

‘Green’ is becoming a bigger part of consumers’ purchasing decisions and corporate social responsibility is becoming a larger concern for companies. More and more customers want to the companies they do business with to be environmentally-friendly.

“It’s still in the early stages, but we’ve also been seeing a trend for companies to track their carbon footprint throughout their supply chain as they are becoming more environmentally-conscious,” Walker noted.

With all the benefits of tracking and tracing, it would be easy to get carried away. However, there is a danger in going too far with your tracking initiatives.

“If you track it, regulators will watch it and you could end up burying yourself in data,” Walker cautioned. “Finding the right balance depends on how heavily regulated your industry is and what you are trying to accomplish.”

Rockwell Automation provides industrial automation control and information solutions, ranging from stand-alone, industrial components to enterprise-wide integrated systems. For more information, visit