How to Streamline Part Traceability in Electronics Manufacturing

By implementing effective traceability practices, you can build trusted relationships with consumers and be confident that products are effectively being monitored in case any issues should arise.


Electronics manufacturing is a booming industry that has stayed steady through the economic downturn. With consistent advances and innovation, there are no signs of slowing down.

However, the increase in manufacturing means more traceability regulations that protect both consumers and manufacturers from potentially dangerous or defective products and counterfeits.

As standards continue to grow and manufacturers ramp up competition, ensuring effective traceability during electronic production procedures is essential.


What is Traceability?


Have you ever experienced a product recall that required immediate action to determine the source? Was it easy to trace the product and figure out where the problem originated, or did you find yourself jumping through hoops to figure out what the issue was?

In either scenario, you practiced traceability. Maybe it was efficient (or not), but you had some process you followed to trace your part.

Traceability is the ability to trace a component or part through its supply chain life cycle, from a manufacturing facility through multiple stages of the supply chain. This process is tested when a product is recalled, defective, or reported counterfeit. In the electronics manufacturing industry, an effective traceability system is required to be implemented by manufacturers.

Traceability fixes quality and reliability issues by giving manufacturers a starting point to conquer when there is a recall for a product. Thorough traceability in electronic manufacturing processes will ensure quick recall so there isn’t a waste of resources like time, people, and money. It also ensures that consumers have a good relationship with manufacturers and feel confident in the products they are using. As a result, your organization ensures regulatory compliance while keeping consumers happy and keeping your brand’s reputation intact.


Elements of Traceability in Electronics Manufacturing


Elements of the traceability of electronic manufacturing procedures differ depending on the industry, but today we are focusing on electronics manufacturing. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the leader in adopting regulations that electronic manufacturers must follow for effective and efficient traceability within supply chains. The most recent ISO regulation for traceability is called the ISO 9001:2015. ISO 9001:2015 is the requirement for quality management systems (QMS) that support traceability efforts.

ISO 9001:2015 emphasizes seven principles for QMS: customer focus, leadership, engagement of people, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision-making, and relationship management.

Altogether, these principles intertwine effective database management, organization, and product and service traceability.


Understanding Standards for Traceability


In addition to the ISO regulations, the Institute for Printed Circuits (IPC) created standards for electronics traceability, including the IPC-1782, IPC-1784, IPC-1788, and HERMES-9852.

To streamline your traceability, understanding the IPC-1782 is crucial.

The IPC-1782 details the “Levels” of traceability that correlate to a part. Each level is defined by the degree of risk relating to a part when it needs tracing for recall. The risk includes time to re-manufacture the product, cost, and potential harm to the consumer.


IPC 1782 Levels


The IPC-1782 has four levels of risk- Level 1 (Basic), Level 2 (Standard), Level 3 (Advanced), and Level 4 (Comprehensive).

Level 1: Basic

  • Level 1 is the least amount of risk needing the least traceability requirements.
  • These products have a low cost of manufacturing, meaning their recall cost is also low.
  • Level 1 materials require each batch's part numbers and incoming order traceability identification.
  • Examples of products in level 1 include PCBs, ICs, and power supplies.

Level 2: Standard

  • Level 2 expands on Level 1 by including Level 1’s traceability requirements in addition to unique identification for each material and assembly.
  • Serialization and databases are now incorporated at this level, so computerized systems are commonly used for management.
  • Around 70% of the recording of process characteristics, exceptions, test records, and inspection records are on automated systems.

Level 3: Advanced

  • Level 3 becomes even more detailed than the first two levels.
  • Level 3 requires all process characteristics, exceptions, test records, and inspection records to be even more detailed with a lower degree of error.
  • This level is all about adding the extra layer of quality assurance beyond basic compliance.

Level 4: Comprehensive

  • The level for components with the highest risk of defective is level 4.
  • Level 4 requires more specific data gathered about assembly and descriptive information about the product.
  • For material traceability, all materials used on each PCB-A must be listed, and all metrics, test results, and process data must be collected.
  • Examples of level four products include smartphones, tablets, and other consumer devices that are costly and include many parts.


Best Practices for Streamlining Traceability with Marking


Streamlining part traceability in electronic manufacturing processes is all about navigating the big picture of traceability and ensuring that your traceability marks are sufficient for supply chain management.

Here are a few considerations for streamlining your traceability:


1. Define Your Needs


When looking to streamline your traceability, defining what standards your production needs to follow can be a helpful starting point. Aligning your products with IPC-1782 levels and the necessary information that goes with each – like batch numbers and serialization.

Considering how you’re going to organize this information is also another way to define your needs. Depending on your level of risk, you may need to add extra databases to your processes.


2. Choose Your Traceability Marks


After defining your needs for your plan, determine what type of mark will give the optimal traceability marks depending on the required information stored and regulations.

For example, choosing whether to use a barcode, logo, QR code, or serial number. For instance, if you manufacture Level 3 or 4 products, using a QR code is an ideal way to store over 1,000 characters and withstand environmental conditions. Alternatively, if you manufacture Level 1 products, you may choose to opt for a less complicated mark like a logo.


3. Determine How to Make the Mark


After deciding what kind of mark you want to make, choosing a tool that effectively and efficiently can conquer this without being a burden on production is key.

There are many tools on the market for traceability marks, like label makers, laser markers, ink printers, and chemical etchers. Evaluating the size of your parts, materials, and level are all key to picking the right traceability marking system.

Choosing the right one for your process can be monumental in correcting traceability backlogs.


4. Implementing Traceability


Traceability is a crucial aspect for you and your consumers in the booming electronics manufacturing industry. With an ever-evolving industry, regulations by the ISO and IPC are getting more detailed and standardized for you to streamline your electronic manufacturing traceability.

Using the compliance foundation and your knowledge about your materials, production size, and risk will help you determine a plan for streamlining traceability. Resources about traceability markings and databases are readily available as everyone benefits from streamlined processes.

Theresa Bass is an outreach specialist with KEYENCE Corp, a global supplier of sensors and vision solutions for factory automation, which can help with traceability in electronic manufacturing processes.