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How are Nonmachinable Disc Mailers being Processed?

March 13, 2008

by Todd Butler

Letter Sized Non-compatible Disk Mailers
So how are nonmachinable letter sized disc mailers being processed by the Postal Service? Through postal documentation and postal pictures, this article will try to answer that question by backtracking one mailing.
Butler Mailing Services was contracted to prep and process for postal distribution a disc mailer provided by one of our customers. The piece was a traditional 5¼ x 5¼, 4 panel wallet, constructed of card stock and contained one disc. Being square made it a nonmachinable letter.  Since the background was black and could not be ink jetted, labels were printed with the delivery address and applied to the mail piece. The piece was then shrink-wrapped, sorted, bundled and mailed as a nonmachinable letter according to DMM (Domestic Mail Manual – postal bible) specifications. Plastic outer wraps are also not allowed in the automated letter mail stream. This piece did not meet the physical specifications for mailing as a flat, but it could be mailed as an NFM at twice the postage cost.
The piece was inducted into the postal system February 25, 2008 as indicated by the following document often referred to as a 3602. A 3602 is a postage statement indicating the quantity mailed, mail piece classification, and postage paid. It also indicates that the mailing was inspected for proper piece/bundle/tray preparation.
On March 7, 2008 we received the following EMIR report stating that the piece was not prepared correctly for the processing it received as an Irregular Parcel/NFM.  Remember that this mailing was prepared as a nonmachinable letter based on its physical dimensions and DMM requirements.
These pieces were dropped 2/25/08 but the EMIR says they weren’t processed until 3/03/08.  A full seven days after entry at the same facility where they were finally processed. The report says that the container type was bundles and the processing category was Irregular Parcel/ NFM. In the comments section the EMIR says the pieces required manual processing and assumed (since the pieces were lose in the mail stream) that the pieces were not bundled correctly. EMIRs report what a postal employee finds in the mail stream. The employee is not able to determine how or why those pieces ended up at his/her duty station only that they don’t belong there in their current condition.
When we submitted this mailing for acceptance into the mail stream individual pieces were packaged into bundles using two clear straps, one strap around the length and the other around the width, snug enough to maintain bundle integrity during letter processing. The bundles were then placed into letter trays; sleeves (tray covers) were applied and strapped in place as required by the DMM. The mailing was prepared and entered into the system meeting all of the requirements for nonmachinable letters. The EMIR description and admonitions are in stark contrast to the condition of this mailing as it was presented and approved for entry into the mailstream on 2/25/08.
So how did this happen?
How did pieces entered as letters end up in the Irregular Parcel/NFM mail stream? And why did it take a week to move them from one end of the building to the other?
After researching the issue with the Postal Service (plus some conjecture on my part) this is what I believe happened and is happening to nonmachinable disc mailers across the country. This mailing was entered at the BMEU at the Cincinnati BMC. The letter trays were sorted and shipped to the Cincinnati SCF for processing. BMCs do not process letters. When the trays were opened at the SCF, it was determined that the bundles in the trays should be processed on the bundle sorter (located at the BMC). The bundles were removed from their trays and shipped back to the BMC in a gaylord. A gaylord is a 4’ x 4’ x 6’ high cardboard box which is turned upside down by a piece of equipment to empty it on to a conveyor belt.  The pieces were then routed to the bundle sorter.
Bundle sorters are hard on discs as they use a series of waterfalls (dropping from one conveyor to another with a significant height differential) in the sorting process. This machine requires bundles to be strapped tightly to prevent them from breaking apart and dumping lose mail into the machine. Because shrink-wrapped disks are slick and rigid, bundles of them do not stand up to rough treatment very well. Whether the bundles were opened while at the Cincinnati SCF or the bundles fell apart in one of several machines, the disc mailers entered as letters on 2/25/08 were processed as NFMs by hand on 3/03/08.  If these would have been automated letters, they would have been sent to the SCF, put on the letter sorting machines and sent on their way to their destination by the next day.
Postal systems are changing, procedures are changing, and mail piece design rules will soon be changing. As the Postal Service is forced to become more efficient through better use of its technology, nonmachinable mail will become an ever increasing problem. It appears that we will soon end up with an automated mail stream and a non-machinable mailstream that is too expensive for anyone to use. The concept of nonmachinable letters ($0.561) being forced to pay NFM rates ($1.183) may not be too far off in the future. The Postal Service is already processing nonmachinable disc mailers as NFMs. When it is decided that this is the best processing category for these kinds of pieces, they will simply be reclassified as NFMs and priced accordingly.
The solution is to abandon traditional disc mailer designs and use a mail piece approved for the automated letter mail stream, which will mail for $0.257 in postage (5/18/08 rates). May I suggest one of thirty approved mail piece designs from the eKEY® Family of products?
Todd Butler
Butler Mailing Services
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