Traceability in action

Let’s start with a brief definition of traceability.  Traceability is a term used in the world of measurement and broadly, it’s what ensures that the result of a measurement is reliable, accurate, and consistent with international standards.

Think of it this way: when you take a measurement, how do you know it’s accurate? In a domestic setting, that’s not a question you lose any sleep over because you know that small inaccuracies won’t (99% of the time) have negative consequences. As a result, you simply accept that your 12-inch ruler or kitchen scales are, if not perfect, accurate enough. But in industrial settings, even tiny inaccuracies can be consequential. Thus, in the commercial world, traceability comes into the picture.

Defining traceability

Traceability can be defined as the ability to demonstrate a connection between a measurement result and a recognized reference standard. It’s a proof that confirms the accuracy of a measurement by confirming the accuracy of the measurement tool you’ve used to take it. This is achieved through a documented and continuous chain of calibrations, comparisons, or measurements that take place during the production of the measuring device, or where indicated afterwards on an ongoing basis.

To summarize all that in simple terms, if you’re producing something; say a wire or a machine tool (but it could be anything else in industry), production will have to meet exacting standards to produce the “correct” finished article. That the finished article is “correct” will be confirmed by a measurement being taken. Only if that measurement is taken using a traceable device will you be able to have complete confidence in it.

Traceability in measurement systems

With that said, we’ve established that traceability is a critical aspect of measurement. To fully understand its impact let’s look in greater detail at the benefits a traceable measurement system confers.

  • Verification of accuracy and reliability – a traceable system delivers results that are accurate and reliable. This means, through the already noted series of calibrations and comparisons, that its results can be tracked back to a national, international, or other recognized standard. This confers not only confidence in the product being manufactured, but also reduces or eliminates errors and uncertainties about output.
  • Quality assurance – In industrial settings – whether wire, machine tools, medicine, automotive or in many other verticals – traceable measurements give confidence in end product quality, as well as contributing to meeting regulatory compliance and safety requirements.
  • Interoperability – traceability allows different entities (for example, laboratories or factories in different locations) to compare their measurement results and production outputs via a common reference point based on standardized measurements. This is important for collaboration as well as for the basic accuracy of results.
  • Integrity and auditability – traceability delivers a verifiable and documented measurement process. This can be critical for audits, investigations, dispute resolution, and more.
  • Process optimization – Traceability contributes to ensuring optimal manufacturing processes. For instance, if a measurement shows that a part is out of tolerance, traceability can enable troubleshooting and, by extension, help to resolve disputes between partners.
  • Maintenance – Traceability is the bedrock of improving measurement systems and thus production output over time. Ensuring the latter remains accurate and consistent relies on regular calibration and traceability checks.

In action

With the above in mind, let’s imagine an example that illustrates the points we’ve made.

Let’s say we have a wire manufacturing company, and its products (wires of varying thicknesses) are subject to strict and exacting quality control standards. To ensure they meet the necessary specifications, they must be measured before distribution to the end customer. Traceability enters the picture – and is vital – for the following reasons:

  • The final wire produced will need to comply with any standards and regulations set by governmental agencies and/or industry organizations. This means that the measuring system used in the manufacturing process will almost certainly need to be traceable to a recognized and calibrated standard.
  • Likely, calibration verification will also be necessary as the measurement system will need to maintain accuracy throughout the manufacturing process. Traceability thus ensures that not only is the measurement itself traceable but also the calibration process as well. This assures consistency in production.
  • Wire quality and end customer satisfaction are also addressed because traceability ensures that the specifications of the final manufactured output are within acceptable limits, furthermore, ensuring a consistent experience for the buyer (or customer).
  • Root cause analysis and dispute resolution may be undesirable but if issues do arise with the specifications of the final wire, traceability allows for a thorough root cause analysis. By tracing back measurements to standards, manufacturers can identify where a problem lies – in the measurement equipment or elsewhere in the production process. They can then correct it and avoid lengthy disputes.

While the example is obviously simple and generalized, nevertheless it illustrates how traceability is an essential component of standards compliance, customer satisfaction, and product quality in almost any industrial manufacturing process.

About Conoptica

Conoptica is a leading source of high accuracy measurement systems and offers a variety of solutions to meet the requirements described in this blog series. The company enables accurate measurement, so that you can track consistency and take appropriate actions – avoiding excessive quality deterioration and enabling better management of your stocks.

Fig 1: Traceability journey

The accuracy of Conoptica measurements can be traced back to Physikalish-Technische Bundeanstalt, the National Metrology Institute of Germany, to which all calibration references made using Conoptica measurement equipment are thus traceable. Conoptica’s measurement systems will give an average measurement expected to be within ±1.2 µm (for the 1X objective) from the True Value. This is based on reference to the aforementioned PTB measurements, which have a much higher accuracy though even those will have an error compared to the true value. Figure 1, above, illustrates the journey from the measured value back to the standard.

Conoptica is the market leader for measurement equipment in the wire & cable industry and has been providing high tech camera-based measurement solutions since 1993. We make sure that the metal working industry has access to key quantitative data about their products and tools.