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Maintaining material master data

The rail industry is being reminded about the new dataset recently added to the National Product Catalogue (NPC), which enables rail suppliers and clients to log, manage and share information on their products and materials to improve efficiencies. 

Updated in August this year, the NPC now enables the adoption of a standard list of data attributes and processes for exchanging Material Master Data (MMD) to support the rail industry.  

An innovation delivered by Project i-TRACE, a joint initiative of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and standards specialists GS1 Australia, the registry is an industry service that supports businesses to maintain all their material master data and digital images in a central location. 

They can then share this information in real-time, with all trading partners across the supply chain, with confidence that they are compliant and meeting buyer requirements.  

This agreed, standardised approach to capturing and sharing critical data about the materials that flow through the rail supply chain saves the industry exposure to unnecessary costs, duplication and data quality errors. 

As GS1 Freight, Logistics and Industrial account director Tony Repaci says, the NPC is an industry service that helps manufacturers and suppliers enter, validate, store, maintain and share all their product details, trade and marketing-related information.  

“It provides a single repository of product data applicable across all categories, including orderable spare parts and components,” he said. 

The NPC for rail evolved from Project i-TRACE, which set out to ensure that rail industry materials are described in a consistent fashion. 

“The NPC is a key pillar of the Project i-TRACE program, which also encompasses a standardised barcoding system to capture data on assets and materials where the operators and their suppliers seek to exchange the information in a digital format and in a consistent, accurate way,” Repaci said. 

“So we’ve developed a platform which is widely used by many thousands of companies in multiple sectors in Australia and New Zealand and globally.” 

In the NPC: 

  • Manufacturers and suppliers are considered ‘publishers’: they decide who they will publish their data to (‘the publication’) and maintain the data over time.  
  • Operators/buyers are considered ‘recipients’: they can choose to accept publishers’ data (known as a ‘subscription’) and subsequently ‘synchronise’ for ongoing flow of data changes or additions made by publishers. 

“Based on the principles of data synchronisation, the NPC enables the sharing and updating of quality, standard data, which is required to link physical items (parts, components and assets) to the daily operations of suppliers, maintainers and rail operators,” Repaci said. 

The system allows publishers to: 

  • Simultaneously share data with nominated trading partners and enable them to see any changes in real time  
  • Publish data as a one-to-many, making the most of their prepared data, by publishing to multiple operators resulting in huge savings 
  • Synchronise item data as a foundation for efficient electronic data interchange (EDI/eProcurement)  
  • Keep data in a single, secure, accessible, reliable location for internal and external use  
  • Maintain a high level of data integrity – avoiding duplication, errors and discrepancies  
  • Improve data quality with both automatic and process-driven validation services  
  • Set the foundation for best practice data management processes 
  • Securely share item master information such as GTINs (barcode numbers), descriptions, product classifications, unit of measure, dangerous goods, key regulatory and brand information and more 

“The need for accurate, up-to-date, consistent and complete data for all materials is now a recognised imperative within rail,” Repaci said. 

“Quality data from the validated, expert source – the manufacturer/supplier – is the key to ensuring accuracy. 

“Automating the sharing of quality data via a single source to all systems, ensures that there is interoperability, as they are speaking the same language whilst also removing the duplicated effort and data errors across the supply chain. 

“The NPC allows the suppliers to publish the information pertaining to their products, their whole catalog, or part thereof, onto the NPC platform, publish it once and then do updates to that catalog as and when required. 

“For example, they may introduce a new product, discontinue or supersede another, they may change the attributes of a product and create new ones.” 

Repaci said the flexibility extended to a publisher deciding on how much of the publication it wished to release to a recipient. 

“For example, there may be parts of the publication that does not involve the recipient,” he said. 

The ARA said that the NPC was a means of reducing costs, removing duplication and improving the exchange of information about rail components and parts across the asset lifecycle.  

It removed hours of work in the sorting and manual processing of components and parts, making the industry more responsive and efficient.  

Sydney Trains Material Data Manager and Project i-TRACE working group chair Bill Steward welcomed the project.  

“More recently, COVID check-in using QR codes has simplified contact tracing. Imagine if rail could harness similar benefits to ensure the right parts are delivered to the right place at the right time?” he said. 

In Australia the NPC supports more than 2000 companies and hosts 1.5 million item records spanning multiple sectors. To determine the right option for your NPC journey, visit www.gs1au.org/for-your-industry/rail/national-product-catalogue-in-rail