The costliest mistakes with SSCC pallet labelling + how to fix them

Matthews is the Australasian leader in SSCC pallet labelling

Mistakes happen in labelling. However, the mistakes you make with SSCC labels can have expensive repercussions for your business and your customers. 

Why? Because retailers rely on SSCC pallet labels (aka logistics labels) to efficiently and accurately process inbound pallets into DCs. 

The industry standard for logistics labelling is a Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC), which uniquely identifies the individual pallet and ensures the pallet’s movements can be individually tracked and traced throughout transport and distribution.

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But here’s the problem:

Behind pallet issues, bad SSCC pallet labelling is now the highest cause of delay and rejection of goods with major retailers. It’s no wonder many major retailers, such as Woolworths and Coles, have no choice but to return pallets to the supplier. 

The solution?

By understanding the most common failures with SSCC pallet labelling, you can put processes and procedures in place to avoid them and achieve full compliance before shipping your goods. 

In this article, we reveal the top SSCC mistakes in Australia according to retailers in 2019, and how to fix them. 

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Most costly SSCC pallet labelling fails

1. Incorrect SSCC formats + setup

One of the most common problems retailers experience with SSCCs is the wrong data and format. 

It’s easy to see why: SSCC labels include a lot of information and it can be overwhelming to get it right.  

Matthews SSCC pallet labelling

We have identified the most common mistakes suppliers are making with SSCC formats into retailer distribution centres around Australia that significantly contribute to SSCC non-conformance nationally.  These are:

  • SSCC labels with incorrect barcode symbology. A common issue is Suppliers SSCC barcodes are Code-128 and not GS1-128. This is a simple formatting error when creating the SSCC template on your software. 
  • Date code not populating, or incorrect date code in the top product barcode of the SSCC. Did you know that the date-code fields are compulsory? Encoded in the barcode is either Use By Application Identifier (17) or Best Before Application (15), with the SSCC human-readable component reading as DD/MM/YY. But in the barcode it must be YYMMDD. According to one major retailer, the date code not populating, or incorrect date code format, is now the biggest reason for SSCC non-conformance today in their DCs throughout Australia. 
  • Quantity not populating. Just like the date code, the quantity of cartons on the pallet is compulsory. This is represented in the top product barcode with Application Identifier – AI – (37). Leaving this field as blank, or having poor printing quantity, is a cause for this issue rating in the top specific issues with SSCC non-conformance today.
  • Batch code not populating. The batch code is an option in the top product barcode of an SSCC label. However, many suppliers to major retailers are still printing with Application Identifier – AI (10) in the top barcode, but not printing an actual batch code following. This has caused the automatic induct systems at one major retailer to reject entire consignments. If you don’t have a batch code on the SSCC, then don’t print AI – (10) in the barcode.
  • SSCC number already in the system. The bottom barcode of an SSCC format is your SSCC number. Simply put: it’s your unique licence plate for each pallet. The software should be designed to avoid repeating SSCC numbers. There are several simple ways to avoid this issue from occurring – especially if you operate and print SSCC labels at different locations throughout Australia.  

How to fix it:

Take your time getting the SSCC right from the start. You, as the company putting together the pallet, are responsible for assigning the SSCC. GS1 Australia manages the standards for SSCC codes. (You can find more information here.)

Our recommendation is to talk to GS1 or your SSCC barcode software provider to ensure your SSCC format is correct and the data is being entered in correctly. 

Once you have your SSCC, you can create your pallet label. This needs to include both human-readable text and scannable symbols including: 

  • supplier details
  • Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC)
  • product description
  • product GTIN
  • carton quantity on pallet
  • date code information encapsulated as either Use By or Best Before
  • batch code (if applicable), but remember this is optional and if you don’t use then make sure you don’t print AI – (10) and then leave blank 

Next, get familiar with the strict standards for SSCC labels. 

Here’s what makes a good SSCC label, according to GS1 Australia: 

  • SSCC is unique for each pallet and has not been issued in the past 12 months
  • SSCC and product information barcodes are printed in GS1-128 symbology
  • Quiet Zones (light margins) are not infringed
  • SSCC barcode magnification is between 48.7% and 92.5%
  • Product information barcode magnification is between 25% and 100%
  • All barcodes are at least 32mm in height
  • Human-readable information is located below barcode symbology, no less than 3mm height, and is clear and legible.

Pro Tip: Your pallet labels should be compliant with both GS1 Australia and your customers, the retailers. Check their supplier guides to know exactly what is required and if in doubt utilise the GS1 verification service.

You can find out more about barcode quality and verification, including barcode quiet zones, here.

2. Poor print quality 

More than one in 10 labels has poor print quality, with the top product barcode or bottom SSCC barcode not scanning at major retailer DCs. This could be as simple as fine line-breaks running through the label caused by dirty or damaged print-heads and generally a lack of good internal housekeeping to keep your printer in top condition. 

If your top product or bottom SSCC barcode label can’t be scanned, it causes significant disruption to the inbound receipting of your pallets into DCs. As new and highly automated DCs are coming on line, this issue of print quality and barcodes not scanning is only growing, causing products to be increasingly rejected. 

How to fix it:

One of the best ways to ensure 100% quality is to check your printer regularly

Are operators cleaning the print-head and rollers? Not cleaning these regularly is the biggest cause of bad print quality. Build-up can cause lines in the print or the print-head elements may have failed.

Which printer are you using – direct thermal or thermal transfer? Thermal printers use a series of tiny heating elements in the print-head that cause the label to turn black when heated. The temperature changes can cause irregularities in the way the lines and images on the label are printed. That said, thermal transfer is a great option for SSCC labels, as the print can withstand long exposure to sunlight, friction, changes in temperature and dampness. Direct thermal on the other hand is perfectly suited to cold environments where it is not exposed to such extremes. 

Pro Tip: Another consideration for print quality is whether you are using a picket fence or ladder orientation for printing your barcodes. 

As a general rule, printing in picket fence gives a higher quality barcode than printing in a ladder orientation. Printing in ladder also impacts the size or magnification in which you can print your barcode. By printing picket fence, the barcode’s edges tend to be straighter and crisper, and therefore result in a much higher and more successful scan rate through the supply chain. 

3. Wrong label locations 

Label location is critical, but many manufacturers put SSCC labels in the wrong position on pallets or cases. 

In Australia, the GS1 standards are very clear in outlining the requirements of two SSCC labels on the fork-side entry sides of a pallet. Here is a quick diagram from GS1 showing correct SSCC pallet label placements:

GS1 SSCC pallet labelling correct placement

Did you also know that additional 3PL or transport labels applied to the pallet can also have a significant disruption to the inbound automated receipting of your pallets into the DCs? Multiple labels on a pallet, causing scanning issued at inbound receipt is in the top five of reported issues with SSCC non-conformance across Australia by one major retailer. 

How to fix it

For location, the most important check is that the two SSCC labels are positioned in the 400-800mm zone on both fork entry sides of each pallet. That means 400mm and 800mm from the pallet base, no closer than 50mm and no further than 100mm from the right-hand vertical edge as per the above diagram.

Pro Tip: 3PL and transport labels are at times a necessity to get your pallets through the supply chain to the retailer’s DC on time. If these labels are required, and to stop the automated induct receipt scanners at the DCs accidently scanning them, make sure these labels are placed ABOVE 800mm on your pallet and on the left-hand side of the pallet. This will ensure that any barcodes on the 3PL or transport labels are not accidently scanned, and your pallets will be inducted first time.  

How good are your internal review processes?

One proven way to make sure that your pallet labelling process runs smoothly and correctly is with internal review processes. 

Create a checklist to ensure that your internal processes are robust enough to catch the potential issues before your products leave the warehouse. GS1 and your retailers have these checklists available. 

Not sure how good your processes are? Answer these five questions:

Q1. What process is in place to validate that the correct SSCC matches the correct Carton GTIN? 

You might have a manual or automated SSCC check process. An ideal manual process would be using a wireless hand scanner connected to a Package Code Management software such as iDSnet to scan the carton GTIN followed by the SSCC to manually confirm. 

An automated process would use an inline scanner to confirm the carton GTIN to SSCC pallet before the stretch-wrapping station. 

Q2. How robust are your QC processes?

Put manual checks in place for print quality and housekeeping. This is especially important for manual printing. For example, a Label Printer Applicator (LPA) setup should have inline validation scanners. 

Q3. What is your QC process for transport and 3PL providers?

The same standards should be communicated to third party providers. Find out what label-application and quality control process they use, whether they are scanning the label before despatching goods, and if they have a printer cleaning and maintenance process. If you are putting multiple labels on the pallet, make sure (as specified above) that you don’t have them applied in the 400-800mm zone.

Q4. How do you validate that the carton GTIN scans, and is the correct GTIN?

If the GTIN on the carton is different from the GTIN on the label, then the incorrect goods will be receipted, and inventory will be incorrectly updated. 

Q5. What process is in place to validate that the carton GTIN scans and it is the correct carton GTIN?

Inline validation ensures the barcodes are readable for both pre-printed labels and print and apply. We recommend inline scanners over manual checks. 

You may find this blog helpful from the Australian Food and Grocery Council on AFGC Common Delivery Guidelines for manufacturers delivering into DCs.

Create fully compliant SSCC labels every time

There are lots of resources to help you get your SSCC labels right every time, starting with our team at Matthews. 

If you need help with your SSCC pallet labelling, contact us for a pallet-labelling audit. We’ll help you work out the best solution to ensure your pallet labels are fully compliant and will scan every time. Get in touch today. 

matthews is a leader in SSCC pallet labelling

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Image credits: iStock/ Nordroden (main)

Mark Dingley
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

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