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How to Use Serial and Lot Numbers to Track Your Products

Posted by ThomasLast Updated January 2nd, 2024
— 6 minutes reading

Accurately tracking inventory can require more than just stock counts. Many products have batch, serial, and lot number tracking; properly managing these is just as important as monitoring your inventory levels.

For example, lot and serial numbers can track components from the manufacturing level to the final product’s sale. This traceability is essential in certain industries like food and pharmaceuticals, but other sectors also benefit significantly by using serial and lot number tracking. In this post, we’ll dig through what each of these numbers represents and how you can effectively track them.

Are you more interested in a quick video overview instead? Well, you’re in luck! Watch this short clip from our new podcast.

Secret Life of Inventory | Batch Tracking

What are batch and lot numbers?

The terms batch number, code number, and lot number are interchangeable, so we’ll use lot number for simplicity going forward. Lot numbers identify a group of products that were all produced simultaneously using the same batch of ingredients or raw materials. You’ll find lot numbers commonly used in the food, automotive, and pharmaceutical industries. They can also help track children’s products.

A visual representation of lot number tracking. Two clusters of bottles that all contain the same thing but that were produced at two different times are tagged with two different lot numbers.

Lot number tracking can save manufacturers a lot of money and effort. If a product has a problem, you can recall specific lot numbers. For example, a pharmaceutical company discovers a dangerous ingredient in one of its drugs. Rather than dispose of everything on their shelves, they can use lot number tracking to target a recall of the affected products.

Are you having an issue with a product? You’ll likely report it to a manufacturer using lot number tracking. Sometimes, manufacturers give lot numbers a prefix (e.g., Lot 114321). Other times, they might stamp or print them on the product.

What are the benefits of lot number tracking?

Some of the most common reasons a manufacturer may want to track lot numbers are:

  • Comply with regulatory standards: If you manufacture perishables, food products, or pharmaceuticals, lot number tracking may be a legal requirement
  • Improve customer satisfaction: Lot number tracking means you can more quickly identify and respond to any potentially defective, damaged, or dangerous products.
  • Reduce waste: When you issue a recall, you can pinpoint specific batches of products, eliminating the need to purge everything you have on hand.
  • Better product forecasting: By using data in lot numbers, such as when you produce certain items and how many are available, you can create accurate customer demand forecasts.
  • Clear communication: Utilizing lot number tracking will ensure everyone across all departments has a clear line of sight into the production process. 

Lot tracking best practices

No matter what system you use for your serial and lot number tracking, there are some best practices to remember.

For example, fulfilling orders based on specific lot numbers will ensure accurate monitoring and help prevent mix-ups. Incorporating a barcode system will streamline the lot number tracking process, allowing for quick and precise identification and recording. And finally, implementing software that can help with your serial and lot number tracking will go a long way to keeping things recorded and tracked correctly.

How do I start lot number tracking my products?

If you purchase products that have lot or batch numbers, record them as you receive them on each purchase order. Specifically, record how many units you receive and the lot number assigned to them. You’ll then want to store all units with the same lot number in a single space for easy tracking.

A visual representation of two laptops marked with serial numbers. Both laptops have the same model number but unique serial numbers.

It’s most convenient if your inventory system can record a lot number directly. If there isn’t a dedicated space for recording one, you can also record the lot number as a sublocation. For example, if you’re storing a particular lot in Warehouse A, you can log its location as Warehouse A, Lot 345.

Including the lot number on your invoices to customers may be optional. But you will want to track it on the pick list for each invoice. That way, if your customers process any returns due to defects, the pick list will help you quickly identify the lot number in question.

[inFlow Cloud tracks lot numbers using the sublocation field. For more details, see this sublocation article.]

What is a serial number?

While lot numbers refer to a group of identical products, serial numbers help to identify individual units of a product. In other words, they’re even more specific than batch or lot numbers. Manufacturers could give the same lot number to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of identical products. On the other hand, you would only assign one serial number per unit. In other words, serial numbers make products unique, so you can differentiate one unit from another.

If you look at the bottom of a laptop, you’ll likely find a serial number printed or engraved on it. If you don’t see it there, the number is often associated with your purchasing account. The retailer will print the serial number on the original invoice in this case.

You can use serial numbers for recalls, but they’re also handy for service eligibility. For example, warranty and repair services often require you to provide the manufacturer with a serial number. Additionally, invoices that include the serial number will help identify the date of purchase.

Serial numbers can also contain more information about the product. The encoding can vary from company to company, but you can commonly use a product’s serial number to identify its model number, date of manufacture, and even manufacture location.

How do I track my serial numbers?

If you sell serialized products, you’ll need an extra level of precision in your inventory tracking. When you receive your products, you’ll have to record how many units you received, as well as the serial number assigned to each individual unit.

Record this serial number on any stock transfers to other storage locations and any sales or returns. Entering long serial numbers after every product movement can be time-consuming. For this reason, having your serial numbers printed out as scannable barcodes can be helpful. This way, your staff can use a barcode scanner to scan how much of a particular product they moved. Then, scan a second set of barcodes to identify precisely which serials were included in that transaction.

We’ve heard from customers that they previously tracked serial numbers using complex spreadsheets. Each row of these spreadsheets would represent a product and its corresponding serial number. While these can work for smaller batches of serialized products, it can also be very easy to make mistakes and overwrite data.

We’ve designed inFlow Cloud to make this process easier. inFlow ensures that serial numbers follow serialized products through every stock transfer and transaction — from initial purchase to final sale. So you can rest easy knowing that you can track your serial numbers without resorting to giant spreadsheets to manage them.

If you’d like to simplify serial number tracking, inFlow Cloud can help!

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