Even companies that have plans in place tend to focus on preventive measures and on public relations approaches for brands under siege, while operational planning regarding the specific how-to's of product identification, location, retrieval and disposition are often overlooked.
"When it comes to recall readiness, we see a high level of interest in the ability to make it happen," adds Vicki Griffith, marketing director, food and beverage for St. Paul, MI-based Lawson Software, "but how to make it happen is still a hodgepodge of processes. The capability is not integrated into the ways people do business."
On a positive note, the nature of companies' questions about recall readiness is changing," observes Rory Granros, director of industry and product marketing for the process industries, with enterprise software developer Infor Global Solutions, Alpharetta, GA.
"Before, questions tended to be very general and simplistic. Now companies are inquiring in more detail about the track and trace capabilities within software packages in ways that reflect a deeper understanding of their needs and the different elements involved."
It's About Accessibility
With the right IT systems in place, a company presented with a single piece of data such as a purchase order, lot or batch number, should be able to identify the location or disposition of every affected product within minutes if not seconds, says Rob Wiersma, Lawson's industry strategy director for food and beverage.
In reality, for many companies today the process takes many hours or days.
"One common point of failure we see is that while the data they need is all there somewhere and all auditable, the amount of time it takes to plow through piles of paper documents or to combine and reconcile different databases in the face of a recall is what puts them at risk," says Infor's Granros.
The continuing trend toward increased outsourcing compounds the problem, he adds, "because now you have to worry about whether you're getting all the information you need from your outsourcing partners as well and how strong are their track and trace capabilities."
Many manufacturers rely on ERP systems for track and trace functionality, only to discover, when faced with a real recall, the information readily available from the system doesn't extend far enough.
"Lot track and trace capability has to be bidirectional," Granros notes. "If you find a problem with a product at the end of the chain, you need to be able to trace that back to the source of supply. If you find a problem in a batch of raw material, you need to trace that forward to every processed product that material has touched. You always want to be able to go from any point in the chain all the way down to the bottom and all the way back up."
The weakness of tracking systems traditionally operated out of ERP platforms is there are too many places where the "chain of custody" of information breaks down.
"If your strategy is to capture manufacturing data in your ERP system, warehouse data in your WMS and shipping information in your transportation system, then when it comes time to trace something, you have to incrementally work through the data in each of those separate repositories. If you need to overlay data from separate systems, or start comparing lists manually, then the process becomes very time consuming and that's where the chain of custody of the data can really start to break down," Granros points out.
Infor's strategy with its Adage enterprise system, is to integrate the ERP platform tightly with the WMS system, sending lot codes into the WMS that accompany the product data all the way through picking and shipping. It then brings the WMS-related data back into the central repository of the ERP. Similarly, Infor offers an integrated PLM application that enables users to start with their own finished products within the ERP database and trace the constituents all the way back up through the procurement chain.
Another of the system's features is its ability to trace sub-lots.