Serial vs Lot Traceability Explained

At Wholechain, we’ve designed our traceability flow to reflect the myriad ways companies track, move and group their products through their supply chains. For each product you set up in Wholechain, you’ll notice two traceability types you can chose from: lot or serial. This option enables accurate identification and precision in your supply chain data, as well as alignment with GS1 standards, the labeling guidelines according to which most traded commodities around the world are classified. 

To give you some background on the purpose, use-cases and interoperability of these two ways of classifying products, we’ll break them down for you here: 

Lot-based Traceability

For many products, it’s neither relevant nor feasible to identify product items as single units, so suppliers and manufacturers use groupings called batches, or lots. These lots can be based on time of manufacture, expiry date, dye color lots, or other unifying identifiers of a group of product items. In Wholechain, if lot-based traceability is selected in the product settings, then the primary identifier of every product item will appear as a lot number. 

  • Refers to a group of identical items from the same process, batch, or lot in production
  • Many individual product units share one identifier
  • GS1 Barcode Format: GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) + Lot #
  • Examples: produce based on harvest lot, fabric dye lots, wine lots based on vintage and production date

Lot traceability allows for some precision in product traceability, enabling supply chain partners and end consumers to know the origin details of their product, given the lot it belongs to. Products from the same lot can end up with some variation and in dispersed locations downstream. That being said, the ability to trace units back to their original grouping allows for validation of product claims with regards to quality and sustainability, and is both a practical and widely used alternative to serialization.

Serial-based Traceability

Serial traceability provides instance-level identification of a product item after its manufacture. Within a given lot, serial numbers would differentiate each product from another, with a one-to-one unique code per item. In Wholechain, if serial-based traceability is selected in the product settings, then the primary identifier of every product item will appear as a lot number. 

  • Refers to the instance of a single unique product unit
  • One serial number per one product item
  • GS1 Barcode format: SGTIN (Serialized Global Trade Item Number)
  • Examples: a car's vin number, the serial number on a smartphone

Serial traceability enables the highest level of precision when tracking products through a supply chain to the end consumer. It comes in handy especially when investigating variation between products, or identifying a specific product defect, or the need for recall. 

On the flip side, it is not always practical to assign a code to an individual item. One would not give a serial number to an individual apple in its journey from the orchard to a consumer. Common use cases for serial traceability would be electronics, cars and appliances, where this level of detail is more relevant and attainable. 

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