What is the Difference between Lots and Serial Numbers?

Both lots and serial numbers are both used frequently to track products throughout the receiving and sales process.   Some products are assigned a lot number or serial number when the product during the production process.  Both lots and serial numbers are used for traceability to track the products.  However, there is an important difference between lots and serial numbers.

Difference between lots and serial numbers

Lots correspond to a certain number of products assigned to a group of products for which are common a specific property.    There is a one-to-many relationship as multiple products can have the same lot id.

Serial numbers are properties that can be different for stock items of the same product.  Unlike lots, there is a one-to-one relationship as a unique number is assigned to a single product.  No other product can exist with the same serial number.

Lots Tracking

Lots (or batches) correspond to a certain number of products assigned to a group of products for which are common with specific properties.    There is a one-to-many relationship as many products can have the same lot ID.    Batch numbers typically provide additional functionality for tracking manufactured date, expiry dates and other more detailed information.  Lots are interesting for products you receive in great quantity and for which a lot number can help in reporting, quality controls, or any other info. Lots will help identify a number of pieces having for instance a production fault. Click here to learn more about Lot ID Tracking.

Difference between lots and serial numbers

Lot example

Examples where lot tracking is used

Food production.
A food manufacturer could make 1,000 bottles of ketchup in an 8-hour shift.  Each bottle would be labels with the same lot id used to track the manufacturing date or expiry date.

Milk has lot tracking in the form of the “best by date”.  A batch of milk is a set of individual containers of milk that used the same ingredients and has the same “best by” date because they were produced together, at the same time.  Milk producers apply the “best by date” to give consumers an idea of when their milk will taste best, or when a store should stop selling the milk because it might not reach consumers in optimal freshness. As a side note, experts say the milk in the carton is safe after the stamped date has passed.

Fireworks distribution.

The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) require that importers must keep records of and place marks of identification on all fireworks imported for distribution.  Fireworks importers are required to have display fireworks (display fireworks are the large fireworks used in 4th of July shows) entering the United States to have lot tracking in the form the date and shift of manufacture.

Fabric Production.

Yarn and fabric have lot tracking in the form of dye lots.  A dye lot is recorded the dyeing of yarn, fabric, or garments to identify which has received its coloration in the same process at the same time.   When dyeing fabric, the production run can have color shade issues on a single roll of fabric.  Shade variances can occur due to a number of issues. It is common when a new batch of dyes or inks are mixed when attempting to create or re-create a desired color. Slight differences in temperature, dyeing time, and other factors can result in different shades of the same color between different dye lots of otherwise identical production. As a result, fabric manufacturers assign each lot a unique identification number and stamp it on the label before shipping.

Serial Number Tracking

Serial numbers are properties that can be different for stock items of the same product.  Unlike lot ids, there is a one-to-one relationship as a unique number is assigned to a single product.  No other product can exist with the same serial number.     Serial numbers are identification numbers given to one product in particular, to allow to track the history of the item from reception to delivery and after-sales.  A serial number is often used on products where it is important to track warranty and service issues after a sale. Click here to learn more Serial Number Tracking.

Serial ID number

Examples where serial numbers tracking is used

Electronics.
Computers, cell phones and other electronic products are  identified by a serial number. Looking up your specific serial number online can assist customers in finding the software and support necessary for keeping your equipment working optimally.   Additionally, it allows companies to track warranty claims for each specific unit by referencing the serial numbers.

Cars.
Cars have serial number tracking in the form on the VIN (vehicle identification number).  The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) is the identifying code for a specific automobile and no two vehicles in operation have the same VIN. A VIN is composed of 17 characters consisting of digits and capital letters that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle.  The VIN is used to track recalls, registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage.

Appliances.
Similar to cars and electronics, appliances have serial numbers to allow customers to find the correct spare part by entering the serial number online on the manufacturer site.  Additionally, the serial number allows companies to track warranty claims for each specific unit.

How are serial number and lots tracked?

Although there is a major difference between lots and serial numbers, similar tools and processes are used to track them.  Serial numbers and lots can be technically tracked with pencil and paper, but the vast majority of companies leverage inventory management software to properly track serial numbers and lots.  When selecting an inventory solution, not all software have lot and serial number tracking capability so it is important to ask find this answer to this question early in your initial research.

Inventory complexity arises when you need to keep a large number of lots or serials. Finale makes it easy to keep track per-stock-unit information from the start (receiving or manufacturing) to finish (shipping the products). This information is permanently recorded in the system, allowing the company quick access to the information for full traceability.

If you are in a business where mandates require you to maintain accurate records for each unique lot id or serial number purchase and sale (i.e. medical supplies, fireworks, chemical supplies, pharmaceuticals, etc.), then Finale Inventory is all you need for regulatory compliance documentation. Finale Inventory generates a comprehensive audit trail of stock changes and will accurately track each individual lot or serial  sold, received, manufactured, or returned.

Difference between lots and serial numbers

With lots and serial numbers consisting of long combination of numbers and digits, there is a high propensity for human error during the transcription process to track lots and serial numbers during product movement.  As a result, most companies leverage an inventory solution with barcode scanning capability to eliminate human error and record the identifier by simply scanning the barcode label.

To leverage a scanning solution, barcode labels are required.   Many products have the lot stamped or printed and do not have barcode of the lot so it is important to find an inventory management solution with the ability to print barcode labels.   Finale Inventory is one of the companies equipped to print barcode labels. Every company handles bar code labels slightly differently so we designed the system to be very customizable and present many options for barcode printing . Regardless of what information – UPC codes, product ID, serial numbers, lot IDs or a combination – is used in the naming convention, the software will be able to create custom labels that meet your requirements.

Conclusion

Although there is a difference between lots and serial numbers, a proper inventory management software is required to track either of these identifier.  And if you’ve finished reading this, and come to the conclusion that you need an inventory management software to properly track lots or serial numbers, please contact us if we can be of any assistance.

We’re considered by many to be the best cloud inventory software for our barcode scanning solution, and best of all, we offer a free 14-day trial to any business that’s not tried our software yet.

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