The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) is a nonprofit trade group that publishes the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC). The NMFC is essentially a coding system that universally identifies differences in commodities for freight shipments being transported interstate, intrastate and abroad.

Freight classes and codes are determined by “density, handling, stow-ability and liability,” establishing the “transportability” of a commodity, the organization states.

There are 18 unique freight classes, ranging from highly dense metal products (Class 50) to low-density, lightweight items like pingpong balls (Class 500). Shipments are also assigned NMFC codes to identify commodity type, dimensions, packaging and handling specifications, and risk or liability.

“By analyzing commodities based on the four transportation characteristics and ONLY based on those characteristics, the NMFC provides both carriers and shippers with a standard by which to begin negotiations and greatly simplifies the comparative evaluation of the many thousands of products moving in today’s competitive marketplace,” the group’s website states.

The program is designed to be a standard to best identify the potential complexities involved with moving different types of freight.

Any carrier that uses NMFC rate schedules and tariffs in their contracts is required to participate in the program. NMFTA assigns Standard Carrier Alpha Codes (SCACs) to motor carrier members and publishes a directory identifying participants. Carriers obtain annual membership through a licensing agreement.   

Many shippers, including the U.S. government, require carriers to possess SCACs in order to transport freight on their behalf.

Most less-than-truckload shipments require a freight classification.

In LTL, a shipment is loaded and unloaded multiple times and transported on a trailer along with shipments from other shippers. That places an emphasis on obtaining accurate information regarding commodity type, dimensions, weight, liability (fragility) and driver handling specifics versus a full truckload, which consists of freight from one shipper moving from point A to point B.

The organization also manages a numeric coding system — Standard Point Location Code — that identifies origination and destination points along with location types throughout North America.

In October, NMFTA announced a massive undertaking to reduce and simplify its classification system, eventually making the process more user friendly. On Wednesday, the group said it altered and canceled several generic groupings. Those changes to the NMFC will take effect on April 8.

“Bottom line — while LTL freight classes have been around for quite some time, the current application is quite challenging due to the sheer number of possibilities and what they represent,” Curtis Garrett, senior vice president at FreightPlus and founder and chief creative at Understand LTL, told FreightWaves. “How it drives carrier costs is accurate and still relevant.”

NMFTA is advancing digitalization and cybersecurity initiatives across the industry.

It has taken a lead role at the Digital LTL Council, tackling an application programming interface for electronic bills of lading, and it’s working with trade groups and various government entities to research and develop best practices to help industry participants avoid cyberattacks.

NMFTA also recently announced it will move the SCAC application process to a digital format, allowing carriers to apply, reapply and manage codes online in real time.

“The NMFTA is working on creating a better user experience that will both lead folks toward the correct freight class while also allowing them to collect more data and quantify how they are being engaged with,” Garrett said.

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