You have to love the dynamics in the ASN.  The Advanced Shipment Notification can be created using several logical paths; both predictive and definitive. You should recognize the one you use, and recognizing it probably don’t give it a second thought.

What kind of ASN do you use?

For those of you who don’t know the 856 Advance Ship Notice (ASN) is used to notify your customer how you will be packing and shipping their order. It lists the contents of a shipment, carrier information, and the shipping cartons. The 856 provides flexibility for you to describe the contents and configuration of a shipment at various levels of detail.  It does other things, but the fascination for me right now is the packing configuration.

Companies must pack their goods in boxes (For the most part).  And even when they don’t they still often need to use an ASN.  How we pack is determined in part by what we are packing, our ideas of efficiency, box sizes, client relationship and what is being packed.  Some companies switch carton sizes based on client or what is being ordered.  Often, once you arrive at the “perfect” configurations for you and your clients, you stick with it.
Which of the following do you use:

• Pack all items in one carton
• Pack one UPC code per carton (Variable UPC quantity in each carton).
• Pack one UPC code per carton (Identical UPC quantity in all cartons)
• Pack multiple UPC codes per carton (Identical UPC quantity in all cartons).
• Pack multiple UPC codes per carton (Variable UPC quantity in all cartons).
• Pick & Pack (Customized/variable quantities and cartons).
• Pick & Pack – All cartons packed the same way/Repeating, identical cartons.

Did I miss one?  I imagine I did.  These are the ones I have come to know, but occasionally I find someone who has another configuration.  This obviously ignores those who pack pallets (Tare) and not cartons.  Probably others too.  Chances are good, many of you reading this can relate to one or more of the seven listed above.  Most hosted (Yes, the SaaS people) EDI providers offer the ones listed above and may offer others as well.  How do they arrive at them though?  Do you have to type it all in, scan it or is there a wizard?

There are only two ways to define how you arrive at your packing configuration.  Either you build the ASN with definitive or predictive logic.  Both can be accomplished using an in-house or with a hosted (SaaS) solution.  When we say, Definitive, we are talking about scanning product as it goes into each carton.  For a long time this was only done using one technology (barcode scan).  The system is often generally referred to as “scan-n-pack”.  Scan an item, put it into the carton and repeat as necessary.  You are of course scanning the carton label to ‘tell’ the system you are either starting or ending another carton. 

Now of course there is RFID, which increases the hardware requirement, but may reduce the human requirement to stand there with a scanner continually scanning.  Both of these systems imply there is a scanning station where goods are packed and the ASN ‘built’.  As data is scanned, it can be fed to a hosted (SaaS) or an in-house system.  It is referred to as definitive because once an item is scanned into a carton, there is no ambiguity, provided the scanning is taking place accurately.  One of the big benefits is the person packing doesn’t need to count what is going into each carton.

The second type of ASN is the predictive. 

Predictive ASNs use an algorithm to look at your PO 850 and based on your choice of packing option enable you to configure your packing methodology in advance of actually doing it.  The objective of this method is to re-use as much of the information provided in a Purchase Order 850 as possible and combine it with existing user’s data to produce the Advance Shipping Notice 856 document, while eliminating unnecessary user’s involvement and minimizing clicks and keystrokes. 

For example, if you are using a predictive ASN and you receive a PO for 100 items you will chose a packing configuration (Maybe “Pack one UPC code per carton”).  Using this method, the software will ask you how many items per carton – you will enter in the information.  If you say “10”, then the application will interpret that you are going to put ten items in ten boxes thus completing the process of packing a shipment of 100 items.  It can’t count for you though, so make sure you do a good job.

There are numerous benefits to each method.  From a charge back perspective using the definitive method will minimize the most common charge back in the industry: the concealed shortage.  Using the same example we used earlier, your client orders 100 of a given item from your company.  In packing, you use a predictive method and say 10 per box, X 10 boxes = complete shipment.  If two of those boxes only have 9 in them you have just shorted the order by two.  Your warehouse person just miscounted.  It happens.  But does it need to?  That is a question you should ask yourself. 

Scanning stations for typical barcode readers may cost more and the software to drive it will add to it – but many say they are worth it.  There are also some fascinating case studies using RFID to accomplish the same task including loss prevention (At the point of shipping).  Scanning technology also has the benefit of helping companies KNOW what inventory they receive (Provided items have circuits or barcodes on them when they arrive (At the individual or carton level).  Using this technology can help you understand what is coming IN as well as what is going OUT.

Regardless of which you chose, the obligation to get the ASN to match your actual shipment still remains.  We can see each of these two types of ASNs have their own features.  The definitive simply puts more of the counting and differentiation between items onto technology rather than an over worked, harried warehouse worker.

If you are having trouble with your ASN, or need any EDI support, contact us, here on, or here on – we’d be glad to help.