What is SCAC Code?

The Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC) is a unique two-to-four-letter identifier code used by transportation companies, particularly those involved in intermodal shipping in North America. Issued by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), the SCAC code helps streamline logistics, facilitate tracking, and ensure efficient communication in the transportation industry.

What's the TL;DR?

Our transportation systems need to keep up with the ever-increasing technological world. SCAC codes allow for computerization and efficient freight tracking so business owners and customers can know where their products are worldwide.

  • Identification Code: SCAC stands for Standard Carrier Alpha Code, which is used to identify transportation companies. The NMFTA assigns these codes. You can apply on their website or submit the application via mail or in person at one of their offices.
  • Intermodal Shipping: Primarily used in North American intermodal transport (transportation that involves more than one type of carrier), including rail, truck, and ocean carriers. For example, cargo may be shipped across an ocean and driven the rest of the way to reach its final destination. SCAC codes ensure communication between both modals throughout the journey.
  • Tracking, Documentation & Regulation: This is essential for tracking shipments, billing, and regulatory compliance, including customs. SCAC codes and the NMFTA also help streamline many international requirements when crossing goods over borders, even within North America.
  • Unique Codes: Each carrier receives a unique two-to-four-letter code. For example, the United Parcel Service (your local UPS) has several, including UPSN, UPSS, UPSC, and UPSZ.
  • Integration with Technology: Incorporated into transportation management systems for better logistics control. Depending on your role in the supply chain, your business might explore purchasing a Transportation Management System (TMS), which is increasingly operating on the cloud and leveraging AI.

Tell Me More

The Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC) is an essential component of North America's logistics and transportation industry. Created in the 1960s by the NMFTA, the SCAC code system was designed to facilitate carrier identification and tracking. This system assigns each carrier a unique code, typically two to four letters, used across various documents and systems in the shipping and logistics industry.

SCAC codes serve multiple purposes in the transportation and logistics sectors:

  • Identification: SCAC codes uniquely identify each carrier, crucial for tracking shipments and managing logistics.
  • Communication: Shippers, carriers, and regulatory agencies use these codes in shipping documents and transportation management systems.
  • Efficiency: By standardizing carrier identification, SCAC codes help streamline processes and reduce shipping and logistics operations errors.
  • Regulatory Compliance: SCAC codes are often required in regulatory filings and customs documentation, ensuring compliance with national and international shipping regulations.

How SCAC Codes Are Assigned

The NMFTA is responsible for issuing SCAC codes. Carriers, rail operators, and ocean liners, apply for a SCAC code through the NMFTA. The application process involves submitting company details and paying a fee online, via mail, or in person. Once approved, the carrier receives a unique SCAC code used in all relevant shipping and logistics operations.

Applications of SCAC Codes

  • Freight Bills and Invoices: SCAC codes are some times used on freight bills and invoices to identify the carrier responsible for transporting goods.
  • Bill of Lading: The SCAC code is usually included in the bill of lading, a critical document in the shipping process that outlines the shipment details.
  • Tracking and Tracing: SCAC codes are essential for tracking and tracing shipments throughout the supply chain, providing updates on the location and status of goods in real time. Think about when you click “Track my Shipment” in that email you received; that’s because of SCAC codes.
  • Transportation Management Systems (TMS): TMS software uses SCAC codes to manage carrier information, route planning, and shipment scheduling.
  • Customs Documentation: SCAC codes are required on customs documents to identify the carrier responsible for transporting goods across borders.

Examples of SCAC Code Use

Consider a few scenarios where SCAC codes play a crucial role:

  • Intermodal Shipping: A shipment from China to the United States might involve multiple carriers, including an ocean liner, a rail operator, and a trucking company. Each carrier uses its SCAC code to ensure seamless coordination and tracking.
  • Freight Forwarding: A freight forwarder arranging transport for a large consignment will use SCAC codes to identify and coordinate with various carriers, ensuring smooth transit through different supply chain stages.
  • Customs Brokerage: A customs broker preparing documentation for a shipment crossing the U.S.-Canada border will include the SCAC code of the trucking company handling the final leg of the journey, ensuring compliance with customs regulations.

Challenges and Considerations

While SCAC codes are highly beneficial, there are some considerations to keep in mind for your business:

  • Maintenance: Carriers must maintain their SCAC codes, ensuring they are up-to-date and renewing them as required. If not done, your business could be turned away at customs, resulting in delays for current and future shipments.
  • Consistency: To avoid errors and delays, all parties in the supply chain must consistently use the correct SCAC codes. If they are off by even one letter, issues could result.
  • Integration: SCAC codes must be integrated into various systems and processes, requiring proper setup and management in transportation management systems and other software. This is why it is vital to ensure your TMS is operating efficiently.

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