Most people know that the Advance Ship Notice (ASN), known in EDI language as ANSI X12 856 and in EDIFACT circles as DESADV, is used to communicate details about a shipment to your trading partner. The ASN typically contains information about the shipment and order details - products shipped with the order, type of packaging and carrier information. The ASN is somewhat similar to a Bill of Lading (BOL), except that rather than accompanying a shipment like a paper BOL, the ASN is sent via EDI when the order is shipped. Timing is critical here as it must arrive before shipment does, which is why it’s called the Advance Ship Notice. And it must be accurate - missing data such as the BOL# and the Pro# can result in costly charge backs. The value of the ASN lies in the fact that when the receiving dock scans the GS1-128 bar code label on the carton, their system can access the previously received ASN to determine the carton contents, thereby saving time by not having to open the carton. Secondly, the ASN informs the receiving party of any difference between what was expected (from the PO) and what was actually shipped, helping the supply chain move along more accurately and efficiently.
Most of that is common knowledge. There are a few things though that can differentiate one 856 from another that are much less widely understood. The first is the difference between Standard Pack, Simple Pack, Pick & Pack and Tare Level. With a Standard Pack 856, the hierarchy goes from shipment to order to item to pack, in other words, only one type of item (UPC) is in a carton, but there may be more than one pack (carton) of those items. A Pick & Pack 856 is slightly different because the hierarchy goes from shipment to order to pack to item, meaning each pack (carton) can have several different item types (UPCs). Less common but another type we see occasionally is the Tare Level ASN. The Tare Level hierarchy goes from shipment to order to pallet (tare) to pack to item, so it's similar to a Pick & Pack with one extra level. Depending on the items being shipped, the Pack (Carton) level may not be required, which brings us to the Simple Pack, also known as the No Pack. This type of ASN has no pack level information and the hierarchy goes from shipment to order to item.
See the below infographic for a visual representation of the difference between a Pick & Pack and a Standard Pack.
Another issue that causes some confusion is all these numbers, codes and labels! There's the UCC-128, the SSCC (SSCC-18), the GS1-128, carton ID and the UPC...what does it all mean? First of all, the GS1-128 is the same as the UCC-128. What used to be known as the UCC-128 label is now known as the GS1-128 label. Essentially, the Uniform Code Council became the GS1 Member Organization, hence the change. Just to confuse things further, many companies still refer to this label as the UCC-128 label. The GS1-128 label is what I referred to in the first paragraph that gets scanned at the receiving dock. It usually contains several elements, including ship from information, ship to information, carrier information, PO number, and a bar code. The carton ID is the same as the SSCC (SSCC-18). The SSCC number (Serial Shipping Container Code), comprised of an extension digit, a GS1 company prefix, a serial reference and a check digit, is included within the carrier information on the GS1-128 label. It's an important part of the ASN as well, because it acts as a license plate, tracking your shipment. The SSCC number (Serial Shipping Container Code) must be unique and the number must not be reused within a certain time frame that is sometimes specified by your customer/vendor. The UPC number and corresponding bar code is on the actual product and allows the retailer to bring up price information by scanning the bar code. Money exchanges hands and the consumer takes their purchase, which signifies the end of the supply chain. All of these elements are likely to be included in or related to an EDI 856.
There are many industries that utilize the 856 and they are all connected in some way to the broad term "supply chain" - logistics, manufacturing, distribution, retail, automotive, and pharma to name a few. Here, I will offer couple of examples of how the 856 fits into specific industries. In logistics, one scenario is when a distributor or manufacturer sends a copy of an incoming PO to their 3PL (third party logistics) company. That 3PL might then send an 856 to the distributor's trading partner letting them know of an arriving shipment. Or there may be 940s and 945s (shipping documents to discuss in another blog) sent back and forth between the distributor/manufacturer and the 3PL, which will signal the distributor/manufacturer to send the 856 to their trading partner themselves. There's more than one way to skin a cat, as they say. Another good ASN example is how an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) uses it within the automotive industry. The OEM sends a an EDI 850 (PO) to their supplier, along with an EDI 830 (Planning Schedule) and an EDI 862 (Shipping Schedule). There may be instances when the 850 is not used at all, but usually the 850 is initially sent as a blanket order. The supplier then sends 856s according to the EDI 862 (Shipping Schedule) rather than in response to the 850, which is much different than the typical 850, 856, 810 message flow.
Keeping in mind the technical elements and subtle differences described above, the 856 is just an electronic packing slip. If you think about it along those terms, it's actually not that difficult to imagine. However, it's important to understand that although there is a standard that must be followed, there is almost an infinite number of possibilities for information that a trading partner can include on an 856. And once you have your document mapped, either by your in-house EDI team or by a reputable EDI service provider, you must also keep track of changes and updates your trading partner makes to their maps. This is of course, in addition to keeping up with VAN changes, EDI transmission times, trading partner contact info and holiday shipping schedules. Never a dull moment in the wide world of EDI and data integration...