The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Realising the Potential of Traceability – A Case Study Research on Usage and Impacts of Product Traceability

Ilkka Töyrylä

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management for public examination and debate in Auditorium K216 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 26th of March, 1999, at 12 o'clock noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-7808-1)   [651 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 952-5148-83-1)


This thesis studies the use and impacts of product traceability in business enterprises. Prior research in the field of traceability is scarce and fragmented. This study first draws together and explores the existing body of knowledge to identify the state of current understanding and the gaps that remain in it. Moreover, this study identifies the position of traceability as a discipline with respect to related subjects including product data management. Furthermore, it analyses the ability of these subjects to help to understand the problems in the field of traceability.

Based on the gaps identified in the existing body of knowledge, the following research questions are raised:

  1. How is traceability data used in business enterprises?
  2. What are the impacts and benefits of using traceability data?
  3. What factors enable a business enterprise to fully realise the positive impacts of traceability data?

The research questions are answered using the case-study methodology. The use of traceability is studied in nine different companies from automobile, food, electronics, pharmaceuticals and transportation industries. The case-study research begins with a description of the case-study companies as stand-alone entities, after which the cross-case analysis is conducted.

The empirical study establishes a theoretical and a pragmatic framework for categorising the applications of traceability. Moreover, it identifies a multitude of ways of using traceability data in business enterprises. The results of analysing the impacts and benefits of traceability data point out the importance of traceability for business enterprises. A framework for categorising the impacts of using traceability data as well as a number of practical benefits resulting from the use of this data emerge. Finally, several factors in the organisational and technical setting contributing to the realisation of these benefits are identified.

Altogether, this study establishes the foundations of comprehensively understanding the phenomenon of traceability.

Keywords: traceability, tracing, tracking, product identification, product data management, logistics, quality, case-study research

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© 2005 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26