Fostering Traceability in the Manufacturing Process

In the most basic terms, “traceability” is the ability to track the life of a product along every step of the manufacturing and distribution process. The tracking process begins with sourcing the raw materials used to create a product and ends with the finished product’s final sale. 

Across different manufacturing sectors, traceability plays several essential roles. By fostering complete beginning-to-end traceability for every product, companies can more effectively:

  • Complete quality assurance processes;
  • Monitor the distribution of materials and products;
  • Maintain accurate inventory records;
  • Pinpoint goods at every stage of production and distribution; and
  • Perform product recalls when necessary.

Traceability allows manufacturing companies to enhance workflow efficiency, boost customer satisfaction, and prevent profit-draining mistakes and rework.

From a legal standpoint, regulatory agencies throughout the world also require certain industries to follow strict traceability guidelines. For example, manufacturers of aerospace components, automotive parts, and pharmaceuticals all have to comply with traceability regulations set by government bodies, industry regulators, or both. Companies that fail to comply with these rules can face everything from fines and recalls to severe legal penalties. 

Below, we take a look at how to create traceability in the manufacturing process to enhance workflow efficiency and comply with regulatory requirements:

Fostering Traceability in the Manufacturing Process with Product Codes and RFID Tags

Companies primarily create traceability in the manufacturing process via two methods: 

  • Marking parts, products, materials, and packages with traceable codes; or
  • Fixing RFID tags onto parts, products, materials, and packages.

Both of these technologies allow users to record the movement of goods and materials throughout the supply chain. However, they utilize different operating principles and offer their own sets of pros and cons. 

Alphanumeric Codes and Machine-Scannable Barcodes/QR Codes

Machine-scannable codes and alphanumeric markings enable companies to trace goods, materials, and shipments throughout the supply chain. 

Taking the form of lot codes/batch codes, serial numbers, date codes, barcodes, and QR codes (amongst others), these markings are used to log goods in databases and inventory management systems (IMS). By scanning a code, reading it, or entering its information into a database/IMS device, workers can view important product details and track movement. 

Preferred product codes change from industry to industry and product to product. Today, the most common product codes include:

  • Barcodes: Machine-scannable barcodes are used in nearly every industry to track products, process transitions, and maintain inventory. Barcodes come in a variety of forms, including the Universal Product Code (UPC) primarily used in North America and the European Article Number (EAN) placed on European goods. Depending on the specific type of barcode, these codes typically identify the product, its manufacturer, its location, and in a retail context, its price.
  • QR codes: Like barcodes, QR codes are machine-scannable markings that manufacturers use to communicate product information and trace goods. However, QR codes can hold far more data because they encode information in both the horizontal and physical planes. This feature enables QR codes to perform the same functions as barcodes as well as more complex applications. 
  • Alphanumeric lot codes: Lot codes are unique sets of numbers and letters that identify what product batch a specific product unit belongs to. If there are problems with a certain batch or if batch units need to be located for any reason, lot codes help trace products back to their origin and aid location efforts.
  • Serial numbers: Serial numbers are assigned to products and components to complete tracking and inventory applications. They are useful for identifying goods and fulfilling warranties. 
  • Date codes: Expiration dates, manufacturing dates, and other date codes provide consumers with important product information, assist quality assurance efforts, and aid inventory management. 

These labels can be applied to products using printers, laser marking systems, automatic labelers, and hand labels. 

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags

RFID tags are small electronic devices that emit radio waves for identification purposes. Within each RFID tag are an antenna and a microchip. The RFID tag emits waves that are received by an RFID reader; once received, the RFID reader can communicate what information is saved on the tag and register the tag’s location in a database or inventory management system.

Depending on the purpose of the RFID tag and what kind of product, component, or material it is attached to, this information may include:

  • Product name and description
  • Original manufacturer and location
  • Batch number
  • Shipping, receiving, and storage locations
  • History of applied maintenance and last servicing date

RFID tags can be applied to different materials by hand or with machinery such as label applicators, specialized printers, or insert molding machines. 

Product Codes vs. RFID

Although product codes and RFID tags fulfill similar functions, they are different technologies that have strengths and weaknesses. 

Many operations prefer product codes because they are easy to apply on most materials, cost-effective, and use technology that is simple to integrate into established workflows. Industrial-strength printers and laser marking systems are reliable solutions that can create long-lasting product codes at fast enough speeds to meet demanding product quotas. However, product codes contain smaller amounts of information than RFID tags and need to be manually scanned to work. 

RFID readers automatically detect the radio waves emitted by RFID tags, so manual scanning is not necessary. This can significantly streamline quality assurance and inventory control workflows as well as reduce errors. RFID tags can also contain more information than most product codes, which can be useful for intensive tracking applications. At the same time, RFID tagging is more expensive than product coding, less intuitive, and requires a more complicated workflow. 

If you are unsure of which option is right for you, a member of the InkJet, Inc. team can help you determine which technology will best suit your needs. 



Product Codes



  • Easy to apply
  • Cost-effective
  • Intuitive workflows
  • Diverse coding technologies
  • No manual scanning necessary
  • Minimal errors
  • Significant information storage


  • Requires manual scanning
  • Holds fewer data than RFID tags
  • Durability varies based on coding method
  • Relatively expensive
  • Less intuitive technology
  • More complex machinery required

Top Product Marking Options

InkJet, Inc. carries diverse product marking technologies designed for a wide range of products, industries, and materials. For more than 30 years, we have been developing and distributing marking solutions for companies across the manufacturing spectrum. Along with marking hardware, we create a wide range of ink formulas, including aftermarket alternatives and specialty formulas for unique applications. 

Depending on what type of products you manufacture, which codes you need to print, and what your manufacturing process is like, we may recommend one of the following systems:

Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) Printer: Compatible with numerous porous and non-porous materials, CIJ printers are production line coding systems that can mark substrates at speeds more than 300 m/min without interruption, 24 hours per day. For reliable uptime, InkJet, Inc.’s CIJ systems—the DuraCode Touchscreen and DuraCode Pigment—are built with IP55-rated outer structures and can operate in a temperature range of 41-113° F (5-45° C). CIJ printers are ideal for high-volume coding applications involving alphanumeric markings and low-resolution barcodes. 

Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) Printer: Lighter and more compact than CIJ printers, TIJ printers often weigh 5-10 pounds for easy line installation and adjustments. While CIJ printers excel at high-speed coding, most TIJ printers are better suited for creating higher-resolution markings at speeds around 100 m/min. However, newer high-end TIJ models like the Anser X1 can create high-quality codes at a resolution up to 600 x 600 DPI and lower-quality codes at 300 m/min. 

Laser Marking Systems: Capable of both production line coding and stationary part marking, laser marking systems are strong and versatile machines. Laser marking systems offer unmatched accuracy, diverse application options, large marking windows, and fast coding speeds. To meet the needs of different industries, InkJet, Inc. offers numerous laser solutions, including CO2 laser, fiber laser, UV laser, and LDR laser systems.

InkJet, Inc. is Your Source for Part Marking and Package Coding Solutions

At InkJet, Inc., we help companies throughout the manufacturing industry create long-lasting, traceable product codes on goods of various shapes, sizes, and materials. Our industrial-speed CIJ and laser systems are ideal for high-volume applications, while our TIJ options and high-resolution case coders are well-suited for creating stark images and high-contrast codes. Contact our team today to learn which system is right for you.

For more information about improving traceability in the manufacturing process, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.