The Latest Trends in Track and Trace SKU Serialization Capture

Jennifer Maloney
December 1, 2015

The need to track lot and serial SKU information for order shipment records is no longer limited to specific industries. It exists throughout the supply chain and if it’s not required today

The need to track lot and serial SKU information for order shipment records is no longer limited to specific industries. It exists throughout the supply chain and if it’s not required today in your business it could be coming shortly! Consider the demands of electronics and computer distribution channels, where a warranty begins the moment a product is shipped to a customer. The shipment requires that both the SKU and serial number are captured for each individual lap top, television, home theater, network switches, printer, etc., for customer warranty tracking. The order data is required to be transmitted to the manufacturer with the end user’s items and serial number for every shipment.

To support these requirements, high-volume electronics and computer system supplier DC operations are turning to top tier Warehouse Control and Execution Systems (WCS). These systems integrate automated intelligent conveyor systems that incorporate in-line weigh and dimensioning with multi-sided camera-based scanning systems (scan-tunnels) to capture SKU, serial number and order shipment data to improve order fulfillment shipment mandates.  A top tier WCS includes real-time control modules for voice directed and pick to light picking, balancing orders, cartonization,  shipment lot capture track and trace  dimensional shipment QC checking,  print and apply labeling, order tracking, and labor reporting. Print and apply labeling is a very valuable asset due to its ability to be combined with in-line measurement and audit technologies for automating on demand print and apply of customer-specific packing sheets, shipping labels and hazardous lithium battery warning labels to ensure that shipments meet regulatory requirements.

Single Touch Pick, Pack, and Ship Process

In-line scan and labeling technology becomes an integrated solution for a lean pick, pack, and ship full case, “Ready to Ship” process. Cases are picked in a highly efficient single touch batch pick process that directs the operator using hands free voice picking to pick cases for a batch of orders directly to a powered conveyor line. Voice manages and verifies the case pick and quantity of each SKU during the picking process.

Cases are then transported to the camera scan tunnel, where all sides of the case are scanned, and the product ID and serial number barcodes are captured and transmitted from the WCS to the Warehouse Management System (WMS). The WMS validates the case SKU and manufacturer serial number, assigns the case or cases to the specific order, and transmits the required label and documentation data back to the WCS.

The WCS manages the labeling process and print and applies either a combination packing slip/sheet shipping label, or a shipping label for each carton of a given order. The WCS verifies case to order assignments, detects any picking errors, and validates that items match the quantity of the current order batch.  If a case is mis-picked, a no-read occurs, or over-under picking conditions are detected using the scan tunnel data, the case is then diverted to an operator inspection station.  The WCS integrates the entire full-case pick, pack, and ship operation into a single touch automated operation to reduce picking errors, lower labor costs, and increase same-day deliveries for B to B, retail suppliers and E-Com distribution operations.

Regulatory Track and Trace Future Mandates

New regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require more stringent DC and supply chain track and trace in food, pharmaceutical, medical device and nutraceuticals manufacturing and distribution. These stricter tracking standards require real-time data capture of SKU lot codes and serialization traceability of product movement across the entire supply chain.

The FDA’s track and trace mandates for the distribution of pharmaceutical pallet, mixed-case and split-case product serialization require changes to current product labeling and barcode requirements. A Standardized Numerical Identifier (SNI) will be required to be printed on item-level packages.

The FDA’s SNI guidance requires an identifier that contains the National Drug Code and a second 20-digit alphanumeric identifier that will be unique to each drug package. The SNI would be printed in a two-dimensional (2D) data matrix barcode or alternately, radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on the immediate package for tracking requirements. Complex real-time data capture and automated print and apply labeling requirements are well suited for a top tier WCS.

Lot Tracking Initiatives

Emerging standards and best practice manufacturing and distribution operations are setting internal quality standards that dictate real-time data capture of SKU lot codes and serialization traceability of product movement. Regardless if you are a Food, Pharmaceutical, Nutraceuticals, Electronics, Automotive, Aerospace, Specialty Wholesale/Retail, or Omni-channel operation there are reasons to track order level details using the  array of cost effective automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) technologies available to improve your operation.

Manufacturers and DC’s are increasingly shifting from laser based scanning to camera-based barcode and optical character recognition (OCR) scanners in combination with radio-frequency identification (RFID). Voice picking and vision inspection/audit technology can be used to seamlessly integrate order lot and serial number capture into material tracking and order fulfillment.  These operations can use technologies and pre-developed WCS software modules that provide track and trace for kitting, pick, pack, and ship to gain the benefits of high operational productivity while meeting improved operational and regulatory standards, in addition to automating the data required for supplier warranty requirements.

If your operation is being challenged with increased order data tracking standards or plans to automate pick, pack, and ship with automated picking and labeling, investigate the capabilities available in a top tier Warehouse Control System with database architecture developed to manage data track and trace capture and archiving requirements.  Integrating SKU and serial lot data capture combined with automated print and apply labeling technology is proving to be the answer for many industries that need both regulatory and customer-specific order documentation, including shipping labels, packing sheets, and hazardous lithium ion battery warning labels for regulatory shipment rules.

 

For more information about top-tier WCS and track and trace automation, contact Numina Group at (630) 343-2600 or sales@numinagroup.com.