What is the Purpose of Traceability?

By SodiusWillert | 8/07/2019 | Reading time: 4 min
purpose of traceability

A recent study shows that 74% more vehicles were recalled than were sold last year. Most recalls tend to be minor in nature, but the risks associated with major oversights are a significant cause for concern. Many complex industries require formal process reviews, particularly in the area of engineering compliance, to ensure efficient and effective processes are in place to reduce project delivery risk. As a result, traceability is an essential piece of the puzzle to keep in mind.


Traceability is the ability to formally identify the provenance, motivation, and relations between engineering artifacts. It is also one of the key methods to counter the growing complexity in product development. Traceability is mandatory in order to comply with all safety-related standard processes: DO-178, DO-254, ISO 26262, IEC 61508, and derivatives.

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Traceability is not only mandated for safety-critical systems but also increases the understandability of complex interrelations and thus, the quality and the speed at which a project can react to change. By formally recording the relations between elements in the engineering process, it is possible to identify the impact a change in one element will have across the project. This impact analysis immediately identifies which parts of the architecture, design, tests, or software may need to be changed in order to adapt to a requested or mandated change.


While traceability is an important aspect of a complex systems project, it is extremely difficult to achieve across an engineering team due to the use of a wide array of applications during the engineering process (and across multiple disciplines). The individual applications are often unable to record relationships to elements outside of their repositories, and even worse, the repositories themselves are often closed or store information in proprietary formats that prevent external applications from seeing or linking to their data. Even if the technical means are provided, the lack of ease in creating the traceability information hinders adoption. As most projects lack a clear owner for the traceability aspect of engineering data, there is no one to “herd” the engineering team into compliance.


Very often a project is forced to retroactively, and manually, recreate the traceability at the end of a project in order to deliver. This task requires engineers to stop all engineering activities, or external hires, to create excel spreadsheets or other documents to capture the links across the engineering artifacts and software. Not only is this extremely expensive, but it also removes the benefit of having traceability throughout the design process. Airbus Helicopter estimates this task to require 3 months of effort per engineer across the entire engineering team. However, an efficient process for accomplishing traceability would make the engineering team much more effective and responsive. The act of creating traceability has become a documentation task instead of an engineering task where it belongs.


Non-compliance to these processes can be very expensive. For example, costs could range from not being able to bid on projects to not being able to deliver working products after development. For example, due to the critical issues with the MCAS malfunctions in Boeing 737 planes, James Somers reminds, the FAA “mandates that every requirement for a piece of safety-critical software be traceable to the lines of code that implement it, and vice versa... So every time a line of code changes, it must be retraced to the corresponding requirement in the design document, and you must be able to demonstrate that the code actually satisfies the requirement.”. Additionally, Aerospace Manufacturing states that traceability accounts for the quality and reliability needed in aerospace, two factors that are, “literally matters of life and death” in the industry.

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At Sodius-Willert, we’ve developed tools that help formalize design reviews and share information easily across repositories. By creating innovative products, we’re enabling the thread of engineering. Contact us to learn more about how we can partner to transform the industry.

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