I recently attended an Oracle product training session for ‘serialization.’ The Life Sciences industries, and especially pharmaceutical and medical device companies, are gearing up for the need to offer product traceability. This blog post will be the basis for a possible industry presentation later this year.
There are several solutions that address pedigree and serialization. A recent article by Carla Reed provides a great background to this topic. (Reed, Carla. “Beyond the mandates: Finding business value in mass serialization and supply chain visibility.” Pharmaceutical Manufacturing June 2011: 34-36.) I can recall as early as 2006 when radio frequency identification (RFID) tags were introduced as the solution for the industry. We know that for various reasons this never panned out due to price for the tags and adoption within the industry. Today a good example of this technology is the use of RFID with the devices that help automate toll collection on the various US highways.
Alternative technologies to RFID tags include 2D barcodes. Printers can create these unique tags at a fraction of the cost of RFID tags. The Oracle solution allows you the ability to attach these tags and their associated numbering at any level within your product hierarchy. This data can then be organized into a ‘pedigree’ document for your product. This would be analogous to ‘shipping’ papers that you would normally prepare once you prepare to send your product off to a distribution center or local warehouse.
Implications for supply chain
Now doubt that technology alternatives exist to help solve the problem of product traceability and authentication. Companies today are being forced by local and global regulations for the need to provide traceability solutions. The questions for many companies is just how to go about solving this problem. Let’s first decide what you want to ‘track’ within your product and your business process. I often describe the application of technology with the use of a ‘babushka’ doll (or Russian nesting doll). Where do you want to apply a tracking solution within your product? How do you want your supply chain to track your product?
Why IT services?
An interesting comment came out of the training session when one of the attendees asked “when would I use an IT services company?” Some manufacturers have looked to their packaging and labeling suppliers to provide the ability to ‘serialize’ and track their products. This would be a great idea were it not for the fact that these suppliers lack the resources and ability to discuss the need for traceability within a ‘business process.’ This became very clear when the discussion turned to when do you apply serialized information? You see no two products are manufactured in the same way.
Some manufacturers use production order with routing to make their products and some use process orders and recipes for their products. That was a tough conversation and when I raised the fact that production and process orders can often be mixed – well let’s say that the value of IT services providers that can navigate a client’s business process answered this question.
Some next steps
In my opinion IT service providers need to offer:
- The ability to understand a client’s business process and offer cost-effective solutions to the application of serialization and product traceability.
- Provide the ability to organize a series of steps within a project to deliver a solution. You need good project management – deliverables that includes documentation (yes it is a validated environment) – with skilled resources. Ask your IT service providers if they have any ‘accelerators’ for this type of work?
- Have the technical ability to apply Oracle and SAP solutions. This is a mixed technology environment and there is no one solution to solve this problem.
I will let you know if this turns into an industry presentation later this year.