Five lessons on product traceability from UK Construction Week
UK Construction Week took place at the NEC in Birmingham on the 3rd to 5th October 2023, and we were proud to be a part of the conversation around the future of the construction sector – in particular, where product traceability is concerned, and how it impacts on building safety.
Our Managing Director, Catherine Gibson, took part in a high-profile main stage panel discussion chaired by Geoff Brown of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, alongside Amanda Long, former Chief Executive for the Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI) and representatives from product manufacturers.
Later the same day, our Commercial Director Adam Taylor took part in a lively discussion hosted at the Digital Construction Hub entitled ‘Does the construction industry need to reinvent the digitalisation wheel?’ alongside Travis Perkins’ Group Data and Insights Director Rob Barbour and others from across the industry.
In both panels, the participants agreed that there is a need to identify product information and to collect, store, and utilise that data correctly in order to improve building safety in the future – with CCF’s role as a distributor seen as crucial to tracing this product data.
If you weren’t able to make it to the event in person, we have collected the key lessons on product traceability from the day:
1. The construction industry needs to build trust
From the CCPI to product manufacturers and everyone in between, people recognise that the construction sector needs to build trust. Proving the provenance of products, collecting and storing data on them, and being able to trace exactly where and when those products are used in a particular project is crucial.
Amanda Long pointed out that while making product information available and adhering to the guidance set out by the CCPI on product data will eventually become a legal requirement for manufacturers, the moral obligation to improve standards already exists. Many manufacturers already see the advantages of providing robust, up to date product information, so aligning up to the Code will be a relatively simple process – but those who do not sign up to the Code will risk eroding trust in their products even further.
2. Collaborate and communicate
CCF’s Catherine Gibson and Adam Taylor both highlighted the need for cross-industry collaboration in resolving the issues around product information and product traceability. No single organisation can tackle this task on its own.
Adam explained that there is a need for a standardised system for product information. Different manufacturers adopting different processes and technologies for tagging or labelling products may be counterproductive and make tracing those products more difficult.
That’s why CCF has conducted its product traceability proof of concept trial in partnership with a manufacturer and a customer – to showcase how the technology supporting the data collection must be useable by all three parties. Only by working closely together can the industry find a workable solution that suits everyone.
3. The advantages of being an early adopter
If there was one point that everyone agreed on, it is that the market is crying out for product information that can be identified and traced from manufacturer to construction site. All panellists agreed that this is something that construction customers – that is, main contractors, specialist contractors, and housebuilders are all keen to have in place.
This means that those manufacturers and distributors – like CCF – that help create a workable system and adopt it early will be putting themselves ahead of the competition.
What’s more, Amanda Long made the point that early adopters can actually help shape the processes and systems alongside the CCPI, allowing them to have significant input into how product information is gathered, stored, and used. In short, there are advantages to being part of the conversation from the beginning, rather than being told what to do later.
4. Distributors are pivotal to the process
More than anything, the key takeaway was that distributors like CCF are at the heart of the product traceability solution. Sitting at the centre of the supply chain, and with clear connections to both manufacturers and customers, distributors like us must be involved in crafting the product traceability programme.
Amanda Long agreed, stating that while it is important for manufacturers to buy into the process by signing up to the CCPI and putting in place clear product information, it is distributors who will – in most cases - track the products from the point of manufacture to the project where they will be installed. That means that CCF can help to iron out a lot of the potential problems with any system that may be put in place.
Our trial has already proven the need for manufacturers to provide information that is unique to a particular product (or product batch) and to provide this information in a way that is easily accessible for distributors and contractors. CCF’s proof-of-concept product traceability trial has shown that an industry-standard tagging or labelling system would be beneficial – reducing the need for distributors and contractors to invest in different scanning technologies.
5. Product traceability trials like ours are the first step
Our proof-of-concept trial has already helped to pave the way for future improvements to product traceability. But inevitably, it has also raised further questions, proving that this is the first step on a much longer journey.
There is still work to be done in encouraging buy-in from manufacturers, and adjustments to be made to the scanning and tracking process that we have put in place so far with our trial partners. At present, the trial covers full pallet deliveries from the manufacturer, via CCF’s warehouse, to the goods-in location at a single construction site. What would this look like at an individual product level, or where a pallet is split and products delivered to multiple sites? And how is that product traced beyond the point of delivery?
As Adam raised, there are many more answers needed from organisations like the CCPI on matters such as which products require this level of data or traceability, and whether this system will be necessary for all types of building projects or just those of a particular scale or in a certain sector.
This is a conversation we are proud to be leading and we are looking forward to helping the whole industry build trust, raise standards, and improve product traceability on a bigger scale in the future.