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Serial & Lot Numbers: What Are They?

If you’re a small to medium sized business and scaling warehouse operations, or perhaps a startup and are completely new to inventory management you may be facing new challenges. There can be an overwhelming amount of new information to sift through. One of these may be the types of identification numbers you need to learn. These numbers, many of which we’ve all come across in our day to day purchasing lives, can appear completely random. In actuality they are very intentional, help producers and businesses identify what, when, where and how a product was produced and can even belong to an international tracking database.

So, if the above describes you, or even if you’ve been in the inventory management world for a little while now, don’t worry we’ve got you. This article will give you a bit of a crash course for in serial and lots number identification, how they’re used and why they’re important to your business.

The most frequently used numerical identifiers are serial numbers and lot numbers. Producers and manufacturers use these numbers to identify specific components of a product or a production run at large. They may look very similar but are used for different reasons. Understanding what they are and when they’re applied is very important to your business, managing your inventory.

The fundamental difference between a lot and serial is this: a lot number is used for groups of products produced at the same time, or specified production window. A serial number is a unique number that is applied to a specific individual product. Let’s give some context.

Say a manufacturer produces ice cream. They produce the ice cream in batches. They then separate the batch into individual containers ready for transport and distribution to then be sold in stores. For that batch a unique lot number is designated and applied to each individual container of ice cream. The number tells the manufacturer exactly when the ice cream was produced, at what facility, in what part of the facility, with what ingredients, and what stores it was shipped too. Why is that important to them, or for that matter the store? Well let’s say the manufacturer forgot an ingredient in the batch, or worse there is a potential public health concern. The lot number allows the manufacturer to track down every container instantly, accurately, and have it properly disposed.

Serial numbers are a numerical code like a lot number but work much differently in practice. Serial numbers are unique to a specific individual product or component. It is unique. For example, take an auto manufacturer. They produce cars through an assembly line process. Once each car comes off the assembly line it is given a unique serial number which is different from every other car produced before and after it. No car will have the same number. Not only that, but several of the core components of the car, like the engine, have their own serial number as well.

Serial numbers help businesses track when the product was made, what production process it was manufactured under, when, where, and if any defects are detected they can be tracked, and the individual items affected dealt with. Serial numbers also help in warranty tracking and other useful trackable data.

As is demonstrated these numbers have a huge impact on traceability, and with inventory management. It allows a business, whether from a manufacturing, retail, or warehousing perspective to manage their inventory effectively. A WMS like Akatia’s WAM facilitates this tracking. If a business needs to find a certain product lot or serial number, either for fulfilment purposes or recall, it’s a simple search of the number and the system will tell the user where the inventory is, where it came from, or if it was shipped. Commonly barcode scanning enhances this process. For example, if something looks out of place about a product a simple scan of the lot or serial number using a barcode can be made, a report created and sent to the manufacturer. All functionality that WAM provides.

Serial and lot numbers also help with quality assurance. They can be used in relationship to customer complaints. If complaints are coming on a particular set of lots or serial numbers, it may be an indication that there is a consistent problem. The problem can then be neutralized, and a resolution put in place.

In the case of recalls they are greatly beneficial. Imagine having to track down a particular batch of a product or non-serialized component. It’s feasible, but certainly open to errors. What if different batches were shipped together, or faulty and good components used in the same production period. The task is monumental and the likelihood of missing many of the affected products is a certainty. By having lot and serial controlled products the recall process is made more efficient, certified, and safe.

Of course, in any business customer satisfaction is key. If customers have an issue with a product they can use the lot or serial number to make a legitimate complaint. By using these identifiers associated to a specific product they provided accurate feedback that helps businesses investigate the issue and avoid large scale recalls.

As touched on with our car manufacturing example serial numbers are especially important with tracking warranties. Not all products are guaranteed equally. The manufacturer may have several different product types, with different components. The serial number helps manufacturers apply the correct warranty associated to the product.

Traceability within inventory management is crucial. With these numbers in place and by using a proficient WMS (like Akatia’s WAM) a business can be better positioned to manage the storage and fulfilment of inventory, identify specific problems before they arise, and remain in compliance with standards. It not only helps the business better track their products and inventory but ultimately helps increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. And really, isn’t that the goal.


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