Integrated Business Communications Alliance

IBCA Guidelines for Product ID, Labels and Shipments

Supply Chain Foundation Guide

  1. Introduction Ė Information flow in the supply chain, How to use the documents
  2. Supply Chain Overview and Benefits
  3. Organizing The Labeling Project
  4. Understanding The GS1 System

Label Implementation Guide

  1. Implementing a GS1 System Labeling Project
  2. Implementing Serial Shipping Container Code
  3. Bar Code Print Quality

Contemporary Knowledge:



IBCA Label Implementation Guide (LIG)

6.  Implementing a Serial Shipping Container Code Labeling Project (rev December 2011)

6.1 Introduction / Overview of the Project

This chapter uses terms and concepts presented in Chapter 3 & Chapter 4 and it further assumes that the preparation steps outlined in Chapter 5 have been completed. If you are not familiar with the GS1 System and bar code printing, you may want to read Chapter 3 & Chapter 4 before continuing with this chapter.

The label shown below is an example of a Serial Shipping Container label using the GS1-128 Symbology (a special subset of Code 128) and application identifiers to designate the type of data encoded in the two bar codes on the label.

This label is printed and applied to a carton just before it is shipped. The bar code on top identifies the destination postal code for the carton. It is identified with the application identifier of "420" for domestic shipments. This bar code is scanned at distribution centers to automatically route it to the proper loading dock. This label conforms to the ANSI MH10.8 Standard.

The bar code on the bottom of the label is an SSCC in the GS1-128 format explained in Chapter 7. The carton serial number is identified with the application identifier of "00." The bar code is scanned at various points in the supply chain, including the ultimate destination, to track the precise location of a particular carton in much the same way that Federal Express tracks packages throughout its system.

Not all Serial Shipping Container labels look exactly like this but, by definition, all serial shipping container label projects specify that cartons and other shipping containers shall be assigned a unique carton serial number that can be tied back to its contents.

This chapter explains how to implement a serial shipping container labeling project.

Before doing anything else, make sure that your customer is asking you to do this. Some customers only want the GTIN-12 label (with UPC-A bar code) on consumer units or the GTIN-14 Number (usually in the ITF-14 symbology) on cartons. If the customer is requesting a serial shipping container code, read on.

Note: Even if customers are not asking for this today, most big retailers are planning to implement systems capable of utilizing serial shipping container numbers. If you ship to large retailers, this specification is probably in your future.

6.2 Clarifying the difference between the GTIN-14 and the Serial Shipping Container Code

Itís easy to get confused between the GTIN-14 (sometimes referred to as the shipping container code SCC) and the Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) because both can be applied to the outside of shipping containers and the similarity of the abbreviation (SCC and SSCC). We will call the one GTIN-14 and the other SSCC.

The GTIN-14 and the SSCC are both applied to cartons and shipping containers but they serve two different purposes. The GTIN-14 identifies product inside and package level. The SSCC identifies the transport unit itself and links it to a particular data file containing information like P.O. number, etc.

The GTIN-14 is assigned to a particular product and package quantity. All identical products in the same package quantity are assigned the same number. The GTIN-14 means a specific product and package quantity. Capturing the GTIN-14 identifies the product and quantity but not which purchase order it should be applied against. The GTIN-14 can be printed in ITF-14 or GS1-128 symbology as soon as the product is manufactured without regard for whom it is going to or the need to link a particular carton to a particular purchase order.

The SSCC is different for each carton and shipping container, regardless of its contents. The SSCC can be applied in addition to the GTIN-14 or, if the customer allows it, instead of the GTIN-14. The SSCC is especially useful for tracking cartons containing custom quantities of mixed products. The SSCC is normally not printed until the customer and destination for that particular carton is known. Generally, this means printing after the picking and packing process but before the shipping process.

6.3 How the customer uses the Serial Shipping Container Code

The SSCC is used in conjunction with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) Advance Ship Notice transactions (ASN). In EDI terms, the ASN is called EDI transaction # 856. With the advent of Internet enabled communication some companies are using other methods to communicate the same kind of information. Regardless of the method used to communicate the number, the IBCA guidelines only deal with the SSCC as the link between the shipping carton and the data file containing the information about that specific carton. Since, historically this is referred to as the ASN, we will continue to do so.

The 856 ASN is an electronic shipping manifest containing detailed shipping information such as purchase order number, total number of cartons, carton serial numbers, contents of each carton tied to specific line items on a specific purchase order, carrier that accepted the shipment, shipment date, etc. The electronic file (ASN 856) is created at the time of shipment and sent by the supplier to the customer so it arrives before the shipment arrives. The customer holds the file in a Pending Status waiting for the physical shipment to arrive.

If the 856 ASN file arrives ahead of the shipment, scanning only the SSCC on the cartons allows the recipient to determine:

  •   the contents of the carton.

  • who it came from.

  • the line item(s) from a specific purchase order the contents should be applied to.

If the physical shipment arrives before the electronic 856 ASN file, scanning the carton serial numbers tells the recipient nothing about its contents or other shipping information. In this case, the carton serial numbers can be scanned and stored in a Pending File waiting for the electronic file. When the electronic file arrives, the carton serial numbers can be matched and processed for payment.

6.4 Overview of a System to Generate Serial Shipping Container Labels

The illustration below shows one way to implement a Serial Shipping Container Labeling project. Other ways are possible but, in general, the description below will serve as a guideline. It depicts two (2) new computer systems, both of which can operate on a stand-alone PC if desired. The present business information system does not need to be modified.  Note that SSCLS is not a defined GS1 acronym.  It is used in this text as a generic title for a system that generates SSCC serial shipping container codes and labels, matches picked quantities to an ASN, and generates the ASN.

Present Business Information System

New Serial Shipping Container Labeling System (SSCLS*)

New EDI 856 System

  • Order entry via keyboard or EDI transaction set #850.
  • Generate pick ticket.
  • Send PO information to SSCLS* system.
  • Note: item numbers and quantities are sent to a temporary "look -up" file in the SSCLS* for shipping verification. Actual picking information is used to generate a carton contents file.
  • Assign unique 18 digit serial numbers for each carton.
  • Print labels in proper format.
  • Input "as picked information" from the bar code reader.
  • Create carton contents file by combining actual picking information with PO information previously sent by present business information system.
  • Send actual picking information back to present business information system for invoicing.
  • Send carton contents file to new EDI 856 System.
  • Import carton contents file for SSCLS*.
  • Format file in proper EDI 856 file format.
  • Transmit file to proper customer.

 6.5 Description of the Serial Shipping Container Labeling System (SSCLS)

The Serial Shipping Container Labeling System can be a stand-alone PC-based application. It can be interfaced to the present information system directly or all inputs can be key entered and all outputs can be printed on paper and manually entered into other systems for invoicing, inventory adjustments, etc. The capabilities of the SSCLS may be incorporated in a warehouse management system (WMS) or  in some level of enterprise system. The guidelines deal with functionality only.

The SSCLS has several unique functions not normally present in business information systems. The four functions shown below are the basic, minimum functions the SSCLS system needs to provide:

  • Generates a unique carton serial number.

  • Prints the SSCC label in specification.

  • Creates a carton contents file that can be used to generate the EDI 856 Advance Ship Notice.

  • Transmits the carton contents file to the EDI 856 system.

To ensure the validity of the information, the SSCLS module can perform several other functions:

  • Receive direct input from the present business information system to reduce the need to key enter PO data already in the system.

  • Receive direct input from portable hand held terminals containing actual picking information, i.e. item numbers, quantities, etc.

  • Transmit actual picking information directly to the invoicing module of the present business information system.

  • Format the carton contents file into an EDI 856 transaction file.

  • Transmit the 856 transaction file to the customer.

Creating the Carton Contents File

The most challenging aspect of this project is making the linkage between a cartonís contents and its serial number. In practice, "linkage" means creating an electronic file that uses the carton serial number to reference its contents and other pertinent shipping information. We refer to this file as the "carton contents file." It is created by the SSCLS. The data needed to create the carton contents file is captured or automatically generated in three separate stages.

  • Stage 1 is Order Entry. At this stage, the PO number, shipping point(s), requested ship date (s), requested common carriers, and other special shipping instructions are captured. Item numbers and quantities are also captured at the order entry point. This information is sent to the SSCLS system as a look-up file for shipping verification but the final carton contents file is generated from actual picked quantities, not the order entry file.

  • Stage 2 is data entry of actual picking information and carton assignments. This includes information such as carrier, weight and P.O. number that may be entered manually after the order is completed.

  • Stage 3 is the 856 ASN file formatting stage in which special information identifying the file as an 856 Advanced Ship Notice is generated.

Data Element


Data Entry method

Customer name


Key entry, computer file or EDI (850)

Shipping address


Key entry, computer file or EDI (850)

Purchase order number


Key entry, computer file or EDI (850)

Requested Carrier


Key entry, computer file or EDI (850)

Actual Carrier Identification


Key entry

Line Item(s)


Key entry* or from portable terminal

GTIN-12 number (s)


Key entry* or from portable terminal

Carton Serial Number


Automatically generated by SSCLS module

Actual ship date


Automatically generated by SSCLS module

856 transaction number


Automatically generated by the EDI 856 module

* some trading partners will allow bar code only

Printing the SSCC label

The Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) was explained in detail in Chapter 4: Understanding the GS1 System The SSCC number includes a GS1-assigned Company Prefix Number. If your company does not already have one, apply for one with the GS1 organization. See Chapter 4 for instructions on how to do this.

Since the SSCC label is generally not printed in batches and since it requires a high quality label, it is normally printed with a thermal printer. The SSCC label is essentially a "printed report" following a pre-defined format containing graphic elements that do not change from label to label (your company name for example) and variable data such as the destination postal code and carton serial number, which can be different for every label. Variable data is placed in the format just prior to being printed.

The label formats are generally designed using a label generation package such as those described in Chapter 7: Bar Code Print Quality. Different label formats (such as those required by different customers) are assigned different file names for easy retrieval.

The SSCLS might contain many different label formats to satisfy different customer requirements. At shipping time, the appropriate label format is retrieved and the necessary data is manually key entered or imported from one or more files from the host information system. The 18 digit serial shipping container code (SSCC) is generated by the SSCLS system and printed on the label. The functionality of the SSCLS may be found in a WMS or other host system.

Note: companies shipping from multiple locations to the same customer must be certain that different sites donít accidentally assign duplicate serial numbers. Reserve a range of numbers for different sites or issue the numbers from a central computer.

A number of bar code and Electronic Commerce (EC) /EDI system suppliers have taken unique approaches for systems that generate the SSCC and data for an Advance Ship Notice EDI transaction.

Some compliance labeling packages and warehouse control/management systems will provide many of the functions listed in the following sequence. If these packages fit your application, it may be a time and cost saving opportunity to use one of these packages to speed implementation, and have proper controls for the system.

Hypothetical Sequence to Create the Serial Shipping Container Label and Related Files

Step 1   Purchase Order is entered into the business system as usual.

Step 2   The business system generates a pick ticket as usual.

Step 3   The business system sends information about the order directly to the Serial Shipping Container Labeling System (SSCLS). Alternately, in a true stand-alone system, the purchase order data is manually re-keyed into the SSCLS.

Step 4   The order is picked as usual.  Alternately, the present business information system could send an electronic pick list to a portable hand held terminal equipped with a bar code scanner. As items were picked, bar codes on the items or on the shelves could be scanned and quantities picked could be key entered by the order picker.  The portable terminal, containing what was actually picked, would transfer its contents to the SSCLS in Step 7 below after capturing the carton serial numbers of each picked item as it is packed.

Step 5   The SSCLS generates a unique carton serial number and prints a label that is applied to a carton.

Step 6   The carton is packed. The contents and carton serial numbers are recorded on paper or (preferably) in a portable or tethered hand held terminal that has bar code scanning enabled.

Step 7   The carton contents are entered into the SSCLS. This could be key entered* or, if terminals (with bar code scanners) were used to capture packing information, the data in the portable terminals could be sent to the SSCLS.

Step 8   The SSCLS sends the actual pick data back to the host for invoicing.

Step 9   The SSCLS combines the Purchase Order information sent in step 3 with the packing information created in step 7 to create an 856 file.

Step 10 The SSCLS either formats the file created in step 9 in the 856 (Advance Ship Notice) format and sends it or it sends a file to a stand-alone EDI system for formatting and transmission to the customer.

* some trading partners will only allow bar code

6.6 Changes Needed in the Present Information System

As the hypothetical sequence above illustrates, a serial shipping container labeling project can be implemented without making any changes to the host information system. It can be totally self-contained in a stand-alone PC system with data being entered manually or being fed from some other system.

Not modifying the present system is good from the standpoint that it will not disturb your present databases or require extensive and expensive changes to your host information system. However, not modifying also implies redundant data entry with related error rates and negative impact on productivity.

6.7 Summary List of Tasks and Milestones for SSCC Project

  • Confirm that the customer wants you to serial number cartons and transmit 856 ASNís.

  • Create label formats that meet customer specifications.

  • Prepare to transmit ASN information in the requested format and media.

  • Decide how shipping data will be entered into the SSCLS system.

    • What data will be downloaded from the host computer?

    • What data will be key entered into the remote system?*

    • What data will be scanned into the system?*

      * some trading partners will only allow bar code

  • Purchase or write Serial Shipping Container Labeling System software.

    • Generate unique serial number for shipping containers / cartons.

    • Print labels conforming to the specification.

    • Create carton contents file.

    • Optionally, transmit ASN file to customer.

  • Decide how you will print the labels.

    • Thermal printing is the most likely choice here because it prints high quality labels one at a time.

  • Interview printer vendors and label vendor(s), buy printer(s) and label stock.

  • Print sample labels and submit to the customer for written approval.

  • Purchase or write software that transmits ASN to customer in proper format.

  • Develop quality control procedures to ensure that labels are printed and applied in specification.



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