Traceability is the ability to verify the history, location, or application of an item by means of documented recorded identification.

Other common definitions include the capability (and implementation) of keeping track of a given set or type of information to a given degree, or the ability to chronologically interrelate uniquely identifiable entities in a way that is verifiable.

Traceability

In regard to materials, traceability refers to the capability to associate a finished part with destructive test results performed on material from the same ingot with the same heat treatment, or to associate a finished part with results of a test performed on a sample from the same melt identified by the unique lot number of the material. Destructive tests typically include chemical composition and mechanical strength tests. A heat number is usually marked on the part or raw material which identifies the ingot it came from, and a lot number may identify the group of parts that experienced the same heat treatment (i.e., were in the same oven at the same time). Material traceability is important to the aerospace, nuclear, and process industry because they frequently make use of high strength materials that look identical to commercial low strength versions. In these industries, a part made of the wrong material is called “counterfeit,” even if the substitution was accidental.

Traceability refers to the capability for tracing goods along the distribution chain on a batch number or series number basis. Traceability is an important aspect for example in the automotive industry, where it makes recalls possible, or in the food industry where it contributes to food safety.

The international standards organization EPCglobal under GS1 has ratified the EPCglobal Network standards (especially the EPC Information Services EPCIS standard) which codify the syntax and semantics for supply chain events and the secure method for selectively sharing supply chain events with trading partners. These standards for traceability have been used in successful deployments in many industries and there are now a wide range of products that are certified as being compatible with these standards.

Traceability may be both a regulatory and an ethical or environmental issue. Environmentally friendly retailers may choose to make information regarding their supply chain freely available to customers, illustrating the fact that the products they sell are manufactured in factories with safe working conditions, by workers that earn a fair wage, using methods that do not damage the environment

In food processing (meat processing, fresh produce processing), the term traceability refers to the recording through means of barcodes or RFID tags & other tracking media, all movement of product and steps within the production process. One of the key reasons this is such a critical point is in instances where an issue of contamination arises, and a recall is required. Where traceability has been closely adhered to, it is possible to identify, by precise date/time & exact location which goods must be recalled, and which are safe, potentially saving millions of dollars in the recall process. Traceability within the food processing industry is also utilised to identify key high production & quality areas of a business, versus those of low return, and where points in the production process may be improved.

Within the context of supporting legal and sustainable forest supply chains, traceability has emerged in the last decade as a new tool to verify claims and assure buyers about the source of their materials. Mostly led out of Europe, and targeting countries where illegal logging has been a key problem (FLEGT countries), timber tracking is now part of daily business for many enterprises and jurisdictions. Full traceability offers advantages for multiple partners along the supply chain beyond certification systems, including:

  • Mechanism to comply with local and international policies and regulations.
  • Reducing the risk of illegal or non-compliant material entering the supply chains.
  • Providing coordination between authorities and relevant bodies.
  • Allowing automatic reconciliation of batches and volumes available.
  • Offering a method of stock control and monitoring.
  • Triggering real-time alerts of non-compliance.
  • Reducing likelihood of recording errors.
  • Improving effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Increasing transparency.
  • Promoting company integrity.

A number of timber tracking companies are in operation to service global demand.