USPS: Magazine & Catalog Customer Involvement is Key To Affordable Flat Mail
Monday, November 18, 2002
WASHINGTON - While the Postal Service has dramatically improved efficiencies to sort letter mail, the key to mirroring this success for magazines, catalogs and other flat mail is linked to the mailing community's commitment to prepare flats for automated processing as they have for letters. "To meet the pledge of keeping mail service affordable for flats, we are committed to replicating the breakthrough productivities we achieved with letter mail," explained Senior Vice President, Operations, John Rapp. "Productivity in our letter operations increased 83 percent from 1993 to 2001. We expect similar results as we implement our Corporate Flat Plan." The Flat Plan is an Efficiency-Based Strategy of the Postal Service's Transformation Plan - a short- and long-term blueprint for the future. It will enable the Postal Service to continue to provide affordable service to every American. Flat mail, which includes Periodicals and Standard Mail, is a valuable source of postal revenue. It represents 25 percent of the mail and generates approximately $16.1 billion annually. "Flat mail productivity in plants soared to almost 78 percent in just two years due primarily to deployment of new automated flat sorting machines," he said, speaking to the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, a group that provides technical information, advice, and recommendations to the Postal Service about postal services, programs, regulations and requirements. Its members represent associations of commercial mailing organizations and related mailing services. "We will rely on customers to barcode flats, so it's vital that we continue to find ways to increase their commitment and involve them in the rate structure planning," he said. To make this happen, Rapp said make-up requirements need to be aligned with both customer and postal processing needs in mind. "It's important that we find new and innovative ways to increase the amount of barcoded flats in the system, since barcoded flats are sorted quickly and at the lowest cost," he added. "Ultimately, the benefits of automation should be driven to delivery operations. In asking for their assistance, Rapp asked the mailers to begin the process of moving from 9- to 11-digit barcoding. "We also need you to consider standardizing physical characteristics, the address placement, and the make-up and presentation requirements." Just this past year, the Postal Service completed its nationwide rollout of 534 Automated Flat Sorting Machine (AFSM) 100s. These machines process standard sized flat mail. It also recently started modifying Flat Sorting Machine (FSM) 1000s to increase speed and sorting accuracy for processing thick and hard to handle pieces. The mailing industry assisted the Postal Service with exploring several mail preparation alternatives and updated flats machinability guidelines. Rapp said the larger goal is to reduce mail streams, "first to two - automated and manual - and then hopefully to one - Deliver Point Packaging - if, and that's a big if," he emphasized, the technology is available." Delivery Point Packaging (DPP) is an R&D initiative that uses automation to sort both letters and flats simultaneously into delivery order and then bundle the mail into one package for each delivery stop. Rapp said the Postal Service expects to have a DPP machine simulation available for evaluation during FY 2005, or the next year. If the DPP option is not feasible, the Postal Service will pursue its second option - the Flats Sequencing System (FSS) which will be designed to sequence flat mail using two passes. The Delivery Vision, however, is a long-term effort. "DPP can't be done overnight," he said. "The concept needs to be evaluated to determine feasibility, equipment costs and space requirements. Perhaps most important, the Postal Service needs to identify any potential customer impacts," he said.