Understanding lot and serial numbers when tracking products

Kent Gigger
November 3 2023

If you’re not familiar with inventory management, or you’re just getting started, there are different types of identification numbers you must learn. Most consumers assume these numbers are randomly assigned, but they actually help the manufacturer and company to identify when and how a product was produced.

Lot numbers and serial numbers are identification components used by manufacturers that may look similar but are actually extremely different. While consumers may assume you can use these terms interchangeably, they refer to different things and are used to easily identify certain manufactured products. It’s important to understand the differences between these two terms for crucial business-related issues, including quality assurance and legal compliance.

The difference between lot and serial numbers

The main difference between lot and serial numbers is that lot numbers are applied to a group of products that were manufactured at the same time. Serial numbers are unique numbers associated with specific items. Review the definitions below to learn more about the intricate differences between these identification numbers.

Lot numbers

A manufacturer may create products using batch processing. With this process, the manufacturer doesn’t use an assembly line, but instead produces these products in groups. To identify the products that were manufactured together as a group, the manufacturer assigns this group of products the same lot number.

This is a combination of digits to easily pinpoint the products made together with many of the same materials and can usually be found on the product’s packaging. You can use manufacturing management software solutions to track lot numbers and manage product batches.

Serial numbers

A serial number is another numerical code associated with products. However, each serial number is different for each product and one is assigned to every product. No two items, even if they were manufactured at the same time, will have the same serial numbers.

This number helps you to identify not just the batch, but the specific product. You can also find the serial numbers on the outside of product packaging, usually near the lot number.

Enhancing production with inventory tracking

Not only do lot and serial numbers help to identify specific products, they’re also useful throughout the production process. These numbers assist businesses in tracking inventory through barcode scanners, or other technology, to access information associated with products.

Existing items with lot numbers allow the business to determine in which production batch these products were manufactured. If something goes wrong in production, this number is helpful when speaking to the manufacturer or consumers. For example, if a business notices a product color looks a little off, it’s easier to identify the batch using the lot number to show the manufacturer the difference.

Complex products with multiple parts, such as automobiles or electronics, are easily identified using serial numbers. Since each component used to make a product has its own serial number, a business can more easily identify where each part came from. If there’s a recall on a part, such as a car’s airbag, the business can identify the part and where it was manufactured to hold the manufacturer accountable. Serial numbers are used in inventory management systems to differentiate products from one another and monitor the status and location of products.

Other purposes of lot and serial numbers

Lot and serial numbers can also serve additional purposes for inventory management and customer service.

Other uses in inventory management

In addition to tracking during production and fulfilling orders, lot numbers and serial numbers also help in inventory management with:

  • Quality assurance: By tracking serial numbers, businesses can sometimes relate customer complaints back to certain lot numbers. This may indicate a problem with the production of certain batches, which may force a recall or a change in the manufacturing process.
  • Legal compliance: In some cases, your business may be required to provide serial and lot numbers for all manufactured products. Companies that sell medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, fireworks, and many other products must have ways to identify each product to ensure consumers stay safe. If there’s a manufacturing problem, products can be efficiently pulled from shelves or production if needed.
  • Product recalls: Lot and serial numbers help consumers to easily identify products that have been recalled. If you must perform a product recall, you can name the lot numbers involved so consumers can easily check if their products need to be returned. These numbers also make it easier to know which stock must be pulled from shelves and to pinpoint the components responsible for the recall.

Customer service

Lot numbers and serial numbers are not only important when tracking products from the warehouse to the store, but they’re also important for consumers during the shopping process. Consumers use serial numbers to determine which products are compatible, such as battery chargers for smartphones. Customers can also use these numbers to identify the products they’re having problems with. By identifying the specific product when filing a complaint, the consumer gives more accurate feedback to the company. This allows the company to investigate the issue and potentially curtail a product recall.

Serial and lot numbers are also important when businesses provide warranties for products. Not all products are associated with the same warranties so these identification numbers make it easy for the business and consumer to figure out which warranties apply to the specific product or part.

When it comes to tracking the production process and implementing a smooth inventory management system, lot and serial numbers are crucial. With these identification numbers, consumers can quickly learn about product compliance and businesses can identify potential problems with product components.

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