VDA Explained: Message Standards and Transaction Sets

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is a critical framework for clear business-to-business communication and internal operations. However, adopting a new EDI standard, or translating one standard into another, is complex. If done wrong, it can grind operations to a halt.    

There are many EDI standards. For the automotive industry, few are as important as VDA. 

Here, we will deep dive into VDA message construction, T-sets, syntax and more to help you adopt VDA and seamlessly coordinate with supply chain partners. 

What is VDA?

VDA stands for “Verband der Automobilindustrie”, which is German for the “Automotive Industry Association”. As can be inferred, this EDI standard originates from Germany and is predominantly utilised within the automotive industry. It was established to provide a reliable, unified protocol for data communication in expansive and complex supply chains.1

Like all EDI standards, the VDA format outlines a set of guidelines, which when used effectively, allows for seamless communication between different systems, all the while maintaining data integrity and facilitating efficient business transactions.

Components of a VDA Message

At its core, a VDA message consists of logically structured data representing a single transaction or a business document. It typically contains several sections, including: 

  • Datenkopf” (data head): The introductory part of a VDA message. It serves as a ‘header’ and typically contains information that identifies and describes the overall message. This information could include sender and receiver IDs, message creation date and time, and the VDA message type. Its purpose is to provide essential metadata about the message to the receiving system.
  • “Datenhauptteil” (data body): The main content or ‘body’ of the VDA message. This is where the detailed, transaction-specific data is located. This part of the message contains all the data segments related to the transaction, including item details, quantities, dates, addresses, etc. It’s the heart of the VDA message that carries the most critical information.
  • “Datenschlussel” (data foot): The ‘footer’ of the VDA message. This part typically indicates the end of the message and may contain summary data like total counts or checksums. It’s crucial for verifying the completeness and integrity of the received data.

Critical to any VDA message is what’s referred to as Transaction Sets or T-sets. In a VDA message, T-sets are collections of data segments that represent a specific type of business transaction. For instance, a T-set may represent a purchase order or a delivery note. Each T-set is identified by a VDA-specific code making it universally recognisable within systems that comply with the VDA standards.

VDA Code List

Each VDA code represents a specific type of business document or transaction, thereby ensuring structured and uniform communication within the VDA framework. They act as signposts for almost every additional layer of information provided within a VDA message. 

To get started, here are some common examples of VDA codes:

VDA CodeDescription
4905Dispatch Advice
4913Call-Off Delivery Forecast
4915Delivery Schedule
4916Series Status Inquiry
4927Packaging Instruction
4950Packaging Data
4965Design deviation request
4971Credit Note
4981Quotation Preparation
4984Cost Breakdown Request
4987Engineering Change Request
4988Quality Assurance Agreement
4991Deviation Request
4994Quality data in lot production
4997Engineering change request
4998Logistics Agreement
8001Shipment Notification
8006Dispatch call-off JIT
8008Dispatch call-off, sequenced
8012Shipment Notification
8015Dispatch call-off
8031Shipment Instruction
Note: This list represents only a subset of the total VDA codes, and the specific codes used can vary significantly based on the specific business needs and processes.

How VDA messages are constructed

Constructing a VDA message involves various components, each adding a layer of information to the overall communication. To illustrate how this happens, let’s look at each layer one at a time using the example of a common VDA message – a purchase order.

Usable characters: The language 

At the most basic level, a VDA message is composed of standard printable ASCII characters.

  • Alphabetic characters: A to Z (uppercase only)
  • Numeric characters: 0 to 9
  • Special characters: A set of special characters, such as . , – ( ) / = + : ? ‘ and spaces

These allow for a range of messages to be flexibly constructed, covering commercial, administrative and transport messages.  

Data elements: Words

Unlike some other EDI standards, data elements don’t have explicit codes in a VDA message. Instead, they are communicated in a structured format within specific VDA message types, which do have codes. 

However, conceptually, data elements are the same in VDA as in any other EDI standard. They serve as the ‘words’ of the message that carry a specific piece of information. They could be simple, signifying a quantity or a date, or use multiple simple data elements to represent more intricate data like a product identifier.

For example, in the context of our purchase order, any of the following basic data elements could be included in the message: 

Data ElementDescription
PO_NumberThe unique identifier of the Purchase Order.
Supplier_IDThe identifier of the supplier.
DateThe date the PO was issued.
Line_Item_NumberThe identifier for each unique line in the purchase order.
Product_IDThe identifier of the product being ordered.
QuantityThe amount of the product being ordered.
Unit_PriceThe price of each unit of the product.
Delivery_DateThe specified date for the delivery of the product.
Shipping_AddressThe address to which the product should be shipped.
CommentAny additional notes or instructions related to the purchase order.

Segments: Sentences

Segments are the ‘sentences’ within a VDA message. They consist of logically related data elements that together carry a complete piece of information.

For instance, in our purchase order example, a segment could be “BSNR 10”, where “BSNR” is a segment identifier signifying a purchase order line item, and “10” is a data element indicating the quantity being ordered.

T-Sets: Paragraph

T-sets or transaction sets are akin to ‘paragraphs’ within a VDA message. All the related segments that together represent a business transaction form a T-set.

Continuing with our purchase order example, a series of segments representing individual line items come together form a T-set signifying a complete purchase order. This might include: 

Segments (Line Items)Description
511 4500001234Segment for the Purchase Order number 4500001234
512 10201Segment for the Supplier ID 10201
513 20220301Segment for the Order Date 20220301 (formatted as YYYYMMDD)
515 4500001234 4500001234 10 BSNRSegment for the Purchase Line Item, with Product ID 4500001234, Quantity 10, and BSNR 4500001234
519 A 4500001234Segment for additional data or instructions, in this case, an identifier 4500001234 and ‘A’ which might represent an instruction or status

Messages: A complete set of actions 

Just as multiple paragraphs form a complete document in the English language, an assembly of related T-sets form a complete VDA message, representing an entire business document or transaction.

Let’s consider a simplified example in the context of a purchase order (the actual VDA formatting and structure are more complex):

511 4500001234
512 10201
513 20220301
515 4500001234 4500001234 10 BSNR
519 A 4500001234
511 4500001234
512 10202
513 20220302
515 4500001234 4500001234 20 BSNR
519 B 4500001235

This simplified example includes two T-sets:

  • 511 4500001234 represents the Purchase Order number.
  • 512 10201 is the Supplier ID.
  • 513 20220301 signifies the Order Date.
  • 515 4500001234 4500001234 10 BSNR is the Purchase Line Item with Product ID, BSNR, and Quantity.
  • 519 A 4500001234 is a segment with additional data or instructions.
  • 511 4500001234 represents the same Purchase Order number.
  • 512 10202 is the Supplier ID for the second line item.
  • 513 20220302 signifies the Order Date for the second line item.
  • 515 4500001234 4500001234 20 BSNR is the Purchase Line Item with Product ID, BSNR, and Quantity for the second line item.
  • 519 B 4500001235 is a segment with additional data or instructions for the second line item.
  • 524 signifies the end of the message.

These two T-sets together form a complete VDA message for a purchase order with two line items. While this example simplifies the complexity of the VDA format, it gives an idea of how data elements are organised. 

Transmission files: Multiple messages 

A transmission file in VDA terms, also commonly known as an interchange, is the complete EDI data package sent from one party to another. It serves as the container for all related VDA messages that are being communicated in a single transmission.

The transmission file is structured to include information about the sender and the receiver, the date and time of the transmission, and the contained messages. The messages included in the transmission file could represent a variety of business documents, such as purchase orders, invoices, dispatch advice, etc.

How an EDI Partner Can Help

While the VDA standard offers robust and efficient data communication, decoding its intricacies can be challenging and time-consuming, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses.

Of critical help is the use of EDI via VAN (Value-Added Network). This is a private network that hosts the secure exchange of EDI messages and can automate translation between EDI standards using EDI mapping software

At Data Interchange, we provide flexible EDI services that simplify the application of EDI standards. With the right partner, it’s possible to avoid the complexity of EDI adoption and translation, making it possible for you to meet any requirements of supply chain partners with confidence. 

1 Standardization, Standards and Regulations | VDA

2 ANSI/NISO Z39.87-2006 (R2017) Data Dictionary – Technical Metadata for Digital Still Images

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