Serial Number Tracking

July 5, 2013 at 9:47 AMIan Benoliel

What is a serial number?

A serial number is an identification number assigned to a distinct unit of a product from a single manufacturer. A serial number may be found on the packaging or on the unit itself.

A product will typically have an identifier often referred to as an SKU (stock keeping unit). For example a cellular phone made by RIM may have an SKU of 64905 which is BlackBerry Bold 9000. In addition to the SKU, each phone will have unique serial number. In the cell phone, wireless business its called an IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity. So whereas there may be thousands of 64905s there will only be one with IMEI 353958803-121326-9.

Why should my business track serial numbers

Serial numbers enable the manufacturer to trace a product back through the production process to the source of the components used in the finished product.  In our example of a cellular, the serial number allows the manufacturer to determine which components where used and from which supplier. So in the case where a certain batch of components may have been faulty, the manufacturer can recall only the serial numbers affected instead of a total recall.

Another reason is for warranty purposes.   Through its serial number you can trace which customer purchased a particular phone and if that phone is still under warranty.

In the cell phone business IMEI are also used for a blacklist of stolen devices.  Through the Central Equipment Identity Register an cell phone can be prevented from making calls through its IMEI.

How can All Orders by NumberCruncher help track serial numbers?

Technology exists to ease the tracking burden. These solutions include electronic records handling to help streamline the handling of bills of material and work orders, as well as technology such as barcodes and labels for serial traceability and warranty dates. But this technology has typically been out of reach for the small manufacturer. However All Orders by NumberCruncher provides sophisticated yet cost effective means to track serial numbers through the supply chain to the consumer and its integrated with QuickBooks.

Bill of material

A bill of material (BOM) is a list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, components, parts, and the quantities of each needed to manufacture the final product. It may be used for communication between manufacturing partners or confined to a single manufacturing plant.

A BOM can define products as they are designed (an engineering bill of materials), as they are ordered (a sales bill of materials), as they are built (a manufacturing bill of materials), or as they are maintained (a service bill of materials). The different types of BOMs depend on the business need and use for which they are intended.

An electronic BOM provides greater control over production costs. The ease in creating and editing an electronic BOM helps in maintaining product quality—the actual vs. expected product output.

Using BOMs ensures engineering designs are adhered to during production.  The BOM has production instructions and routing steps, including one that can be called quality control. You wouldn’t believe how many small companies keep their BOMs and production notes on paper in a file cabinet (or in the owner’s head). Paper, or even basic Excel spreadsheet systems don’t allow companies to easily update and instantly communicate changes throughout the entire organization.

Small electronics and computer manufacturers need vital inventory and order management features to effectively track inventory quantities, production, and customer orders. All Orders by NumberCruncher for has the necessary tools that QuickBooks Inventory for manufacturing and manufacturers does not have. From bill of materials to tracking warranty dates, these electronic manufacturers have the same compliance and operational requirements as larger companies. They need much, but not all, of the functional technology solutions [that are available to larger companies]. Too often this type of BOM functionality is found in costly software and hardware solutions.

Work Orders

Paper work orders do not allow production data to be shared throughout a central database. Quality processes cannot be effectively documented and saved to create standard operating procedures critical to electronics production. The ability to save and attach the serial number being manufactured ensures quality processes.

The electronic work order is used to create finished product. Each step in the work order is completed before the work order can be finalized. Too often lower-cost technology solutions lack the needed custom fields required per work order that allow the quality control checklist to be integrated with all other functions, and retained in the same database as order and inventory information.

Without the work order, the impact on quality will be significant, because the internal quality metrics cannot be documented. The work order is the internal document that manages production of a specific BOM for a specified quantity.

Bar Codes

Just as they use clipboards to keep track of inventory levels, many electronics manufacturers use a grease board, dry erase board, or a spiral notebook to track orders from suppliers, inventory, location transfers, customer orders, shipping information, work order picking, and inventory counts and adjustments. All of these can be done via mobile bar code scanning, but until now, many electronics manufacturers have found this critical technology inaccessible because they were priced out of these solutions.

Using bar codes for components ensures that the correct ingredients are picked and overall production efficiency increases. The level of efficiency and reduction of errors decreases by an average of 10 percent

Serial numbers and Warranty or Acquisition dates

No one wants to keep inventory on the selves for too long.  Nor do electronics manufacturers or wholesalers want repair a unit with an expired warrant period or better still a unit that they did not sell.   By not tracking serial numbers you are loosing money by

  • Spending to much time researching serial numbers
  • Repairing units that are not under warranty
  • Repairing or allowing a return for something you did not even sell!

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