Product traceability is becoming a hot topic among warehouse managers these days as regulations become stricter and awareness of recalls and other issues become more prevalent. The Warehouse Management System is now expected to take on this challenge by maintaining a chain of accountability whenever a product moves.
Where is the Product?
The first part of traceability is knowing where your products are. Before the modern Warehouse Management System, there were large gaps in the data regarding product movements. Either a product was in its designated shelf location or it was in the customer's hands, but there was little information about the steps in between. If an order was canceled or changed along the way, it was difficult to track it down and adjust in process.
Managers today expect to know where every product is, whether it was just picked off the shelf a minute ago, or it's been sitting on the dock for an hour. Up to the minute, over the air status updates are revolutionizing our control over the entire warehousing process. Systems also provide insight about lot numbers and how long a product has been on the shelf, which can be important if a recall is issued or an investigation needs to be launched into a product.
Furthermore, depending on your industry, you may need to keep records of your products and shipments for up to five years after the product leaves your warehouse. The Warehouse Management System provides a seamless chain of records for any upcoming compliance checks.
Who Did That?
The second element of traceability is knowing who has been in contact with products. On the one hand, knowing who is handling each product can help you troubleshoot if a product goes missing or doesn't make its way out the door with the rest of the shipment. You can work with that individual to determine where the error was made. However, being able to see this information is also useful for productivity. It holds employees accountable and allows you to see how many products they are picking or moving each hour, or if they have a higher than average error rate. When you identify these issues, you can train and coach the individual to meet your expectations.
All of these are part of the reason that traceability has become such an important piece of the warehouse management puzzle. Newer, sophisticated Warehouse Management Systems are able to track all of this information moment to moment so there are fewer gaps in the data and more accountability.