Where Have You Been?

September 24, 2019

Where Have You Been?

The Importance of Understanding Every Product’s Genealogy

By Joe Schutte

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processes over 278 million cargo and parcel shipments from abroad every year. Inside these shipments are billions of products that come from a myriad of developing manufacturing economies around the globe. The fruits of global manufacturing include lower prices and greater access to a wider variety of goods than ever before. But it also introduces new challenges around affirming product authenticity and quality. Counterfeits are a pervasive problem in the global economy. In fact, in 2017, $1.21 billion worth of counterfeit goods were seized at the border from shipments from Asia alone.

In order to instill a greater sense of certainty around product origin and authenticity, some industries, such as food and beverage in the EU, have instituted a “one step forward, one step back” approach to traceability. Under this standard, every company must be able to identify the direct supplier and the immediate receiver of its goods.

While this practice improves clarity, it also results in a disjointed data record, where no one source houses a product’s comprehensive genealogy. This lack of insight proves problematic in a vast array of business scenarios, ranging from rapid recall resolution, to compliance management, consumer transparency, and quality control.

“While this practice improves clarity, it also results in a disjointed data record,

where no one source houses a product’s comprehensive genealogy.”

In turn, there has been a growing demand to go beyond “one step forward, one step back” traceability, instead creating a holistic digital genealogy for every component, product, and batch. Let’s explore the added benefit of backward and forward traceability throughout the entire supply chain:

Backward Traceability

Too often, manufacturers are uncertain of the origin of the products they receive. Ambiguity around origin and prior locations leaves products at risk of quality compromises that, unbeknownst to manufacturers, can threaten both consumer satisfaction and safety.

Through backward traceability, manufacturers are able to verify that their suppliers are delivering the products promised. This requires some degree of supplier participation, but suppliers also stand to benefit. Upon scanning subcomponents, manufacturers are provided a comprehensive genealogy of every component. This genealogy begins with raw materials, and continues throughout the entire manufacturing process for one, holistic view.

Backward traceability provides immense benefits to the consumer, instilling confidence in product veracity and quality. At the same time, it also empowers brands to comply with regulations set forth by governing bodies without operational disruption. This exceeds the capacity of standard traceability approaches, which traditionally present only a limited, disjointed snapshot of product location.

In order to ensure your supply chain solution offers true backward traceability, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I know what subcomponents are utilized in each and every product?
  • Can I tell where these subcomponents originated and who last interacted with them?
  • Am I certain that exacting standards were upheld in the subcomponent production process?
  • Can I follow a single product from raw material, to work in process, and finished good?

Forward Traceability

Understanding where a product is going is just as important as recognizing where it has been. It is when confusion enters the global supply chain that manufacturers open themselves up to the risk of gray market diversion—where bona fide goods are removed directly from the supply chain and sold in an unapproved venue. This not only degrades brand equity and product value, but can also lead to consumer harm in certain product categories.

Through forward traceability, brands can see if and where products fall off the supply chain for real-time compromise resolution. Traceability beyond the manufacturer’s doors is enabled through the combination of serialized labels that are affixed to every product, and a corresponding digital identity, which is stored in a Blockchain-enabled database. Each scan along the supply chain confirms that a product is precisely where it should be, adding to its genealogy. Leveraging verification scans, brands can then isolate with precision which products have fallen off the supply chain and where, preventing single compromises from becoming lasting patterns of diversion.

True forward traceability provides brands insight all the way to the end consumer, empowering them to uncover critical data about where, how, and by whom their product is used. In the unfortunate event of a product recall, brands could start at the point of compromise and trace forward, notifying those customers who were affected.

In order to ensure your supply chain solution offers true forward traceability, ask yourself the following:

  • Do I struggle to match manufacturing data with specific products in circulation?
  • Can I trace a single product through the distribution network and to its final purchase or resale?
  • Are there gaps in my data records that leave my supply chain susceptible to counterfeiting?
  • Do I understand where, how, and by whom my products are being used in the market?

The Whole Picture, from Raw Materials to Resale

As billions of products move through the market, tracking high-velocity data at scale often proves beyond the capability of existing ERPs, which were designed for big-picture snapshots rather than granular, product-level insight. And yet, industries with robust or stringent requirements for product quality, security, and integrity must be able to verify with certainty the genealogy behind every item in circulation.

At Ashton Potter, we’re leveraging nearly a century of product security and traceability expertise to provide insight and control over the global supply chain. By pairing ProLinc™, our forensic traceability technology, with high security printing, we’re able to capture, contextualize, and store digital genealogies for every product across the global supply chain—even into the billions of records.

Want to know how we do it? Speak to one of our industry experts today.

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