Improved Recognition Technology To Save USPS $92.5 Million Annually
Tuesday, May 15, 2001
WASHINGTON - The Postal Service announced that it received funding approval today for upgrades to existing letter mail recognition equipment. These enhancements are expected to increase "read" rates for letter mail to 93 percent over the next three years by allowing Optical Character Reader and Remote Computer Reader equipment to sort a greater percentage of handwritten and machine-printed addresses. This program is the latest in a series of recognition improvement efforts that began in 1996. Savings from this program are expected to exceed $92.5 million annually when fully implemented by 2004. Mail that cannot be sorted by high-speed automation has traditionally been sorted through expensive manual sorting ‹ at a cost of more than $55 to sort 1,000 letters versus approximately $5 to sort the same amount through automation. Vice President of Engineering, Thomas G. Day, said the improvements will enhance handwritten and machine-print address recognition technology used in existing Optical Character Reader (OCR) and Remote Computer Reader (RCR) equipment including 875 Multiline OCRs, 211 Delivery Bar Code Sorters with Input and Output Subsystems, and 255 RCRs. The program is expected to result in an eight-percentage point improvement in the system read rate and an error rate reduction of up to 50 percent. Remote Encoding Centers as a Short-Term Link to Automation During the early 1990s, the Remote Bar Coding System (RBCS) program was developed to shift the "hard-to-read" letter mail into efficient and cost-effective automated processing. Even from the beginning, downsizing of the RBCS program was planned as advancements in address recognition technology were realized. Mail unreadable to automated sorting equipment is scanned and sent off-site to Remote Encoding Centers (RECs). There, human operators view a scanned image of the envelope, key-in the correct address information, and transmit this data back to the mail processing plant where a correct barcode is applied to the physical mailpiece for continued automated processing. "The primary benefit from increased OCR and RCR read rates will be reductions in the need to manually key address information through Remote Encoding Centers," Day explained. As the system recognition rate has increased, the volumes of letter mail images that require processing at RECs continue to drop, resulting in significant reductions in remote keying costs. "We have a great track record exceeding our savings expectations for these types of programs," he added. "In addition to reducing the number of keyers required, we have also realized a substantial amount of savings from closing some of our remote keying facilities." Of the original 55 RECs, 25 of the 30 targeted for closing are no longer in operation. The remaining five are scheduled to close by the end of this year. Postal officials did not release funding amounts citing concerns for compromising contract negotiations.