MANUFACTURERS Guide to Bar Code, Common Forms and EC/EDI

5.  Implementing an EAN.UCC System Labeling Project

This chapter uses terms and concepts presented in Chapter 7 and Chapter 3 and it further assumes that the preparation steps outlined in Chapter 4 have been completed. If you are not familiar with the EAN.UCC System and bar code printing, you may want to read Chapter 3 & Chapter 4 before continuing with this chapter.

This chapter explains how to label consumer units with the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) and / or intermediate packs with the EAN/UCC-14. Chapter 6 deals with implementing a Serial Shipping Container Code project.

On the surface, the request to implement these projects appears to be simple … get the bar codes shown below on your products and your intermediate packs and shipping containers.

In practice, however, the request initiates several sub-projects.

The first step of these sub-projects is understanding what the customer is asking for. Some companies want the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) placed on individual items but are not asking for the EAN/UCC-14. Step 1 then is to confirm what the customer is asking for:

The UCC-12 number only. Covered in this chapter.
EAN/UCC-14 number only (Note: this would be very unusual). Covered in this chapter.
Both the UCC-12 number and the EAN/UCC-14. Covered in this chapter.
The Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC). Read Chapter 6.
Conformance to the ANSI MH10.8 Label Standard.

Once the scope of the request is understood, several additional sub-projects can be defined:

Get a UCC Company Prefix from the UCC (see Section 4.8).
Assign UCC-12 (U.P.C.) numbers to all products.
Assign EAN/UCC-14 numbers to all intermediate packs and shipping containers.
Modify data base and software to recognize the new numbers.
If necessary, layout new graphics on packaging, making room for bar codes.
Print and apply the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) numbers to all products.
Print and apply UCC/EAN-14 numbers to all intermediate packs and cartons.
Communicate these numbers to your customers.

5.1 Assigning UCC-12 numbers to all products (refer to the documents provided with the UCC Company Prefix).

The UCC- 12 is assigned by the manufacturer to each of its products. To assign this number to your products, follow these steps:

Make a list of your consumer units (inventory keeping units) and assign each one a unique, all-numeric Item Reference Number.
Create the UCC-12 base number (eleven digits) by combining the UCC Company Prefix you were assigned by the UCC with the Item Reference Numbers you assigned to each consumer unit in Step 1 above.
Complete the creation of the UCC-12 number by calculating the check digit (See Appendix 3).

As a rule, these numbers should be assigned arbitrarily, without attempting to reserve blocks of numbers for special colors or sizes or assigning any significance whatsoever to the number. Building so-called "intelligence" into numbers frequently causes more problems than it solves.

5.2 Getting a UCC Company Prefix from the UCC  

Contact the Uniform Code Council (UCC) to get a UCC Company Prefix. The UCC in Dayton, OH assigns the UCC Company Prefix and maintains a data base assuring that no other company is assigned the same number. Applicants should contact the UCC and request an application form. Their address, phone number and fee schedule can be found in Section 4.8.

5.3 Assigning EAN/UCC-14 Numbers

The EAN/UCC-14 is a 14-digit number assigned by the manufacturer to each standard packaging level unit above the consumer unit. To assign this number, follow these steps:

Make a list of the different standard intermediate packs and shipping container for each consumer unit identified above.

Note: Many companies do not ship their products in standard configurations. In these cases, it may be necessary for the project team to establish standard shipping configurations for all its consumer units (or just the ones shipped to the customers asking for the SCC) in order to assign them EAN/UCC-14 numbers.

Assign Indicator digits to each different standard packing configuration. Use the numbers 1 through 8. The Indicator of "0" can be used in special situations where the shipping container is also the lowest unit of sale, i.e. a bathtub.
Add a leading zero to the eleven digit UCC-12 (U.P.C.) base number of the product in the intermediate pack or shipping container, i.e. If the U.P.C. number for the product is 098756100013, strip off the last digit (3) and add a zero to the front. The U.P.C. base number becomes 009875610001.
Create a 13-digit number by combining the Indicator digit assigned in step 2 with the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) base number calculated in step 3.
Complete the 14-digit number by calculating the check digit.

5.4 Preparing the data base and application software

Using the EAN.UCC System does not mean abandoning present numbering systems. Usually it means adding the ability to cross-reference the new numbers to the old. The table below illustrates this:

Column A … Record Number… is for reference purposes only.
Column B … Full Global Trade Item Number (GTIN)… is the new term for the 14-digit data structure to identify trade items (products and services) with the EAN.UCC System.

Even though the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) number is only 12 digits, it is stored in a 14 digit, all numeric, right justified, zero-filled field to make it consistent with the SCS number format. Padding the number with leading zeros does not change the check digit calculation.

Column C … Base U.P.C. Number … is the UCC-12 number of the item.
Column D… Old # … is the company’s "old" or present number.
Column E … Description … is the description.
Column F … Quantity … is the quantity of "Consumer units" represented by the number in column B.








Full U.P.C. Product Code (GTIN) Base U.P.C. Nbr.

Old #




00098756100013 098756100013

SC 12345

1 gallon cleaner



30098756100014 098756100013

SC 12345

1 gallon cleaner



50098756100018 098756100013

SC 12345

1 gallon cleaner



00098756100150 098756100150

SC 45346

5 gallon cleaner



30098756100151 098756100150

SC 45346

5 gallon cleaner



50098756100155 098756100150

SC 45346

5 gallon cleaner


Line #1 is a single "Consumer unit" of cleaner in a one gallon bottle. Lines 2 & 3 are the same product in different standard shipping configurations. Note that the first three line items have the same U.P.C. Number in Column C.

Also, note the Indicator digits (Indicators 3 and 5 respectively) in the left-most position of the Full U.P.C. Product Code column in lines 2 &3. These indicate different package quantities of the same consumer units. When the Full U.P.C. Product Code for line #2 is scanned, the inventory will be adjusted (incremented for a receipt, decremented for a shipment) in the amount of four (4); 1 gallon bottles of cleaner with the U.P.C. number 098756100013.

The new numbering scheme is more precise than the old and it will work better with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions because the quantity is explicitly tied to a specific number. Transmitting the Full U.P.C. Product Code alone will communicate product and quantity information.

Line 4 is the same product in a 5 gallon container instead of a 1 gallon container. It is assigned a different UCC-12.

In the example above, the following actions were necessary to add the ability to recognize the UCC-12 (U.P.C.) number:

Add two new fields to the data base. One for the UCC-12 number and the other for the EAN/UCC-14.
The UCC-12 (U.P.C.) code is formatted as 12 digits, all numeric, right justified.
The GTIN is formatted as 14 digits, all numeric, right justified, zero filled.
14 digit, right justified, zero filled, all numeric.

The next step is cross-referencing the new field to the old item number. The objective is to enable the existing business system to locate the proper data base record when either the old number or the new, U.P.C., number is entered.

Note: The numbers might be key entered or bar code entered but the system won’t necessarily know the difference. For the sake of accuracy, some programmers design their programs to force bar code entry of critical data elements because bar code is more accurate. However, this is not the rule and it is totally optional. In most cases, the computer will treat bar code data entry the same as keyboard data entry.

Companies without their own computer departments should contact their primary software vendor to determine their present system’s capabilities to cross-reference several numbers to the same inventory record. It is important to recognize that the changes that need to be made have nothing to do with the technology of reading bar codes. The changes are related to cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record. The fact that the number may be entered via a bar code scanner is totally irrelevant. The question for the primary software vendor is: Can your system cross-reference several numbers to the same record? Bar code has nothing to do with it.

Once the system has the capability of cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record, the applications that will need to accept either the old numbers or the new numbers will need to be identified and modified accordingly. This usually falls on the shoulders of the company MIS or computer department or the company’s primary vendor of its business system software. The affected applications / modules would probably include:

Order entry
Order picking
Inventory Adjustments
Shipping Verification

Alternately, instead of getting the present software vendor to modify their program, third-party programmers could write a custom program to accomplish the same thing but this approach should be considered very carefully. If the primary information system is updated or revised by the vendor, the custom program may not work with the new version. Generally speaking, it’s safer to get the primary vendor to make the necessary adjustments and commit to keeping the program capable of cross-referencing several numbers to the same inventory record.

5.5 Printing and applying UCC-12 numbers

Once the numbers have been assigned and the computer system can recognize the new numbers and the old, bar codes representing these numbers will need to be printed and applied to the company’s items and, if specified, intermediate packs and shipping containers.

See Chapter 7 … Bar Code Print Quality for a detailed explanation of printing alternatives.

The project team will need to decide how the UCC-12 symbols will be printed and it will also need to establish quality control procedures to verify that the bar codes are printed and applied according to the specification.

U.P.C. symbols can be printed directly on packaging with offset, flexographic or silk screen technologies. They can also be printed on labels and applied to the product manually or with automatic label applicators.

The decision to use one print method or the other is based on a variety of factors including volume of labels / symbols needed, the packaging’s compatibility with direct printing methods, the company’s ability to forecast its requirements ahead of time and the company’s willingness to assume responsibility for the quality of the symbol in every respect.

See the discussion on bar code print quality in Chapter 7.

Generally speaking, direct printing on packaging is less expensive for very large quantities. Printing labels in-house requires less lead time and allows quick response to unexpected label requirements.

5.6 Printing and applying the EAN/UCC-14 number and the ITF or UCC/EAN-128 Symbol

If the customer is requesting the EAN/UCC-14 number on intermediate packs and shipping containers, methods of printing and applying these will also need to selected and procedures to verify quality will need to be written.

See Chapter 7 … Bar Code Print Quality for a detailed explanation of printing alternatives.

EAN/UCC-14 numbers can be directly printed on corrugated cartons. Direct printing methods save the cost of labels which can be significant over a year. Label costs vary with quantity, label materials and label size but a 10 in. sq. label (2.5" x 4") would cost between 1˘ and 2˘ in quantities of 100,000 or more. Cartons can be direct printed off-site, usually with offset printing technologies or on-site using ink jet technology. 

The UCC has revised its specifications allowing the EAN/UCC-14 number to be encoded in UCC/EAN-128 symbology instead of Interleaved 2 of 5. When using this new format, the 14 digit number is preceded by the Application Identifier "01" which tells the computer the bar code contains the EAN/UCC-14 number. See Appendix 5 for a complete list of Applications Identifiers (AI’s).

The UCC/EAN-128 symbology cannot be reliably printed directly onto cartons because of unpredictable ink absorption rates. Choosing this symbology and format also means choosing labels instead of direct printing.

One final point, although the UCC has defined this method of communicating the EAN/UCC-14 number, not all companies are accepting it. Check with the customer before selecting this symbology and format.

Print quality is especially important when printing directly on corrugated cartons because ink spreads at an unpredictable rate on different lots of corrugated cartons. If the ink spreads too much, the bars become too wide and the spaces too narrow. Bar codes printed directly to corrugated should be checked periodically.

On-site printing alternatives include thermal transfer, laser or impact printers.

5.7 Communicating the new numbers to the customer

Chances are, your company already has procedures in place to communicate your existing numbers to your customers but if your data base structure is different or if the customer needs a specific structure or file format, existing procedures may need to be changed. There are three alternatives to updating the customer(s) files:

In writing, requiring manual data entry.
Computer disk or tape, allowing the customer to import the data directly into their business information system.
EDI transmission. This is the future because it eliminates the need for human intervention and automates the process. Any time a change is made to the product catalog, the changes can be automatically sent to all trading partners in a predetermined file format which allows them to update their data base with the new numbers automatically.
Via the Internet. Simply post the files so companies can download them. If security is an issue, you can arrange to automatically e-mail to a secured address.

Not only is it necessary to communicate the new numbers to your customer(s), it’s also a good idea to submit printed samples of your bar codes to the customer to make sure they can read them. Some customers insist on this anyway. Considering the cost implications and possible negative impact on customer relations if they can’t read the bar codes you send them, it’s a good idea to get the customer to respond in writing, stating their acceptance of the sample. It’s important to remember, however, that ongoing print quality inspections will be needed to assure that printing systems continue to produce high quality, in-specification symbols.

5.8 Summary List of Tasks and Milestones

Determine what your customer(s) is / are asking of you, i.e. understand the specification.
Get UCC Company Prefix from the UCC.
Make a list of all your "consumer units" and assign UCC-12 numbers (12 digit U.P.C. code) to each one.
If you are being asked to mark intermediate packs and shipping containers with the EAN/UCC-14 code and bar code symbol, make a list of all your standard packaging configurations for each consumer unit and assign an EAN/UCC-14 to each one.
Cross-reference the new UCC-12 code to your old numbers in your computer data base and modify applications to recognize / accept the new numbers or the old numbers.
Decide how you want to print each type of bar code, i.e. how you want to print the UCC-12 symbol (UPC-A) and how you want to print the EAN/UCC-14 symbol (ITF-14 or UCC/EAN-128).
Design label formats for each customer. Do this yourself or have an outside vendor do it as item of their contract.
Submit sample bar codes to your customers for written approval.
Print and apply bar codes to your items.
Communicate these numbers to your customers.
Develop and implement quality control procedures to assure that your print quality and bar code placement remains in specification.

Up ] 1. Introduction ] 2. Overview ] 3. Organizing the Labeling Project ] 4. The EAN.UCC System ] [ 5. Implementing an EAN.UCC System Labeling Project ] 6. Implementing a Serial Shipping Container Code Labeling Project ] 7. Bar Code Print Quality ] 8. IBCA Standard Forms Requirements ] 9. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) ] 10. Appendix: How Bar Codes Work ]