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EDI With a German Accent: A Brief Tour of VDA

I’m still shaking off my holiday torpor and wouldn’t you know it … the new year barely begins and I come down with a cold. But I’m excited about 2010 and slowly I’m getting back into the saddle again. So I’d like to pick up where I left off in my current series about EDI messsages and transactions and IDocs, with a little Teutonic twist.

Once upon a time, back in the 1970s, there was a little red Volkswagon Beetle. This VW bug, as it was affectionately known, was owned by an uncle of mine. My uncle loved his little red bug and kept it for more than 14 years.

He drove it everywhere … in his daily life, on weekends, vacations that took him coast-to-coast in the United States, clear across Canada, and deep into Mexico. He put a lot of miles on that little red bug and he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it. And over time it developed a host of mechanical and structural ills, including holes in the floors on both the driver and passenger sides, just like in the Flintstones.

But it just kept going and going and going … Driving that car was a real labor of love for my uncle.

Chances are, the parts that went into the assembly of my uncle’s little red bug were delivered to the auto plant with the help of an early form of EDI developed for the German auto industry known as VDA, for the Verband der Auitomobilindustrie or the Association of the Automotive Industry.

As its name implies, VDA is more than just an EDI standard: it’s also an organization that for over 100 years has promoted the interests of the German auto industry. Its more than 600 member companies include manufacturers (autos, motors, trailers, special bodies, and containers); parts and accessories suppliers; and oil, chemical and other related firms.

Taking Care of Business

Through its more than 35 committees and working groups the VDA tackles a broad array of auto industry issues including economic and transport policy, quality assurance and standards, technical legislation, taxation, climate policy, the environment, and EDI, through a Working Group for Electronic Commerce.

The VDA began developing EDI standards for planning, distribution, and invoicing in 1977, before the United Nations began developing the EDIFACT global standard. But we’ll look at EDIFACT in a later posting.

Key VDA messages include:

    • 4905 — Delivery instruction


    • 4906 — Invoice


    • 4913 — Shipment/dispatch advice


    • 4915 — JIT (Just in Time) delivery schedule


    • 4921 — Shipping transport data


  • 4922 — Shipping order

VDA messages are flat files with one header record, multiple data records, and one trailer record. Their structure and usage are defined by four characteristics:

    • Record type code identifying the function of the record


    • Version number of the record type


    • Mandatory/Conditional attribute


  • Repetition factor: 1 or R (record can be repeated)

The record type code and version occupy the first five positions in each record.

VDA Message Structure

The 4905 Delivery Instruction gives us an idea of how a VDA message is structured:


RecType Vers M/C Repeat Description
511 02 M 1 Header record delivery instruction. 1 per transmission.
512 01 M 1 Article codes. 1 per plant, customer, part number, unloading point.
513 01 M 1 Reconciliation and call-off data. 1 per 512 article code.
514 01 C R Additional call-off data. 1 to many per 512 article code.
517 01 C R Packaging data. 1 to many per 512 article code.
518 01 C R Text data.
519 02 M 1 Trailer record. 1 per transmission.


It’s a fairly simple structure and VDA EDI saw a lot of action between German auto manufacturers and their suppliers. But it is being phased out in favor of EDIFACT and is no longer under development by VDA. However, there are still some large EDI consumers in the German auto industry, such as Volkswagon, who use some VDA messages for a number of their brands and plants in Europe and abroad.

The bad news is that VDA guidelines are not that easy to come by, especially in English. They are mostly published in German. Volkswagon does have some English translations but you need access to their B2B supplier platform on the web. And unlike other EDI standards, there are no real naming conventions for each data element.

There are SAP partners who supply adapters that support VDA-IDoc translation in XI/PI, for example, it.x-change VDA by itelligence AG, who are on the SAP EcoHub. Support for VDA message translation is most likely to come from middleware systems and adapters developed in Germany.

The good news is that national auto industry bodies from around the world have agreed to move towards establishing EDIFACT as their universal EDI standard, as I indicated in my posting Standards Make the EDI World Go Around. It’ll take more than a few years but the future clearly belongs to an EDIFACT global standard, at least in the auto industry.

In the meantime, we gotta do what we gotta do. And there are still some widely used standards in key countries that are even weirder than VDA … TRADACOMS anyone? We’ll look at this quintessentially British standard in our next posting.

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