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Why Material Traceability Is So Important


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What is material traceability and why is it so important? In the metal manufacturing business, quality assurance processes protect manufacturers, buyers and sellers from defective products, which can become a liability. Additionally, a paper trail can be required for tax credits, insurance, quality assurance, or environmental certification of new construction. 

To prove and document the material makeup, provenance and quality of any steel member from the mill to its final destination requires a material traceability system.

By tracking each individual member, quality problems or product failures can be narrowed to a specific batch or production process. This will help isolate and reduce further issues with an individual heat (lot) or process, while improving performance evaluation and quality control measures.

The IMS Material Tracking System

At Industrial Metal Supply, our customers trust us to provide materials that meet their specific requirements, along with an accurate paper trail. This is especially important for customers maintaining ISO certification for their quality assurance program.

Our material tracking process ensures continuous and reliable traceability from start to finish. For example, a product, such as a stainless-steel angle, starts as a billet, or bar, cast out of molten stainless steel. Mill employees test the molten steel for compliance to the correct alloy they are making. When they reach the desired recipe, they assign a “heat number” to that batch and that heat number follows the batch all the way to the finished product. 

During this process, testing is completed that shows the batch conforms to all ordering or manufacturing requirements, including common specifications. A one-page mill test report (MTR) is created and maintained. The MTR includes the date, heat number, item, and specifications met, along with other important data and a statement of compliance and certification. Additional Lot Codes may be added following the material through transportation, storage, and any further manufacturing and machining processes to form the steel end-product, such as angle, sheet or bar.

When IMS orders material for stock or special orders we require the mill to send the test reports to us along with the material. The material also must be tagged and the heat number traceable back to the material’s origins and the relevant MTR. Our process maintains this traceability as long as the item remains in our stock (and for three more years?).

Material Traceability Procedures

IMS manages and maintains our process to ensure continuous and reliable traceability from start to finish. Critical procedures required to maintain traceability include: ​
  • Vendor selection and performance monitoring
  • Inbound product inspection
  • Reliable tagging of product
  • Thorough in-process inspection, product identification, and accurate documentation
  • Final inspection ensuring customer requirements are met
  • Easy to find mill test reports that are traceable to the product we supplied

Some smaller items aren’t produced with heat numbers and test reports requiring traceability don’t arrive with this level of documentation. Despite this lack of traceability, IMS still may be asked to provide a “certificate of compliance” to our customers certifying that our shipment meets the customer’s ordering requirements.

Importance to our Customers

Some customers require this tracking information, or their projects will never meet specifications. Other customers may not ask for it at the time of purchase, but the need for this information may come up later and we need to be able to provide it to them.

Even if customers aren’t interested in test reports or traceability, IMS follows good practices using a well-organized system that maintains traceability throughout our processes. The IMS material tracking system provides risk mitigation to ensure we provide high-quality, accurate material with a process that we can stand by.

For top-quality steel products that meet all your material traceability standards, contact Industrial Metal Supply.