Traceability markings are the glue that binds all the processes in an enormous metal manufacturing facility

One of the biggest steel companies in Europe was struggling to find a traceability solution for their rebar manufacturing process. Their goal was to be able to identify the product in every phase of the value chain (steel mill, rolling, storage etc.) and to be able to provide “perfect orders” to their customers.

Traceability in the supply chain can be divided into two types: internal traceability within the manufacturer´s facilities, and external traceability when the product leaves the production facility. Internal traceability also commonly includes traceability codes at the subcontractor work sites inside the manufacturer’s facility. Recordkeeping of a product through the whole chain allows both the customer and the company to have all the information necessary to efficiently manage a situation in the event of any deviations.

Our customer company´s biggest challenge was to be able to create permanent traceability markings on hot (100°C/212°F) steel reinforcement bars and to overcome the traceability issues when the products move inside the enormous production facility, from one producer and subcontractor to another. To ensure process reliability, the rebars need to carry a tracking code in every stage, hence they must be marked several times throughout the manufacturing process. According to the facility production manager, the traceability marking is the “glue” throughout the supply chain: whenever the steel bar is cut into shorter pieces, the same code must be marked on each new piece.

Up to 3,116 numeric characters in one tracing code

Previously, the company was using stamped numeric codes but wanted to shift to more advanced, machine-readable codes that could hold more information. For this reason, they chose to use data matrices (2D codes) for tracking the parts. That means that the tracking code is a two-dimensional barcode that can hold large amounts of information in a small space. A data matrix can hold 3116 numeric characters and 2335 alphanumeric characters, or contain a handheld-device-readable website URL, which links the user directly to the online page with all essential information regarding the product and processes.

The customer had considered using printed labels with 2D codes, but any traditional printed label materials will melt or burn under the high-temperature conditions in this production environment. Labels may also fail when they are exposed to oils and chemicals during hot metal processing or scraping and scuffing during transport.

The solution provided by Cajo Technologies was multiple integrated 100W Cajo Tailor™ systems. This option allowed for highly durable, precise data matrices, marked directly on the parts, that remain machine-readable throughout the entire production and supply chain.