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The Imperative to Produce Automation Compatible Mail [PostCom]

June 4, 2008

Todd Butler

Published on PostCom.org

The following is a contribution from PostCom member Todd Butler. Butler Mailing Services currently has over 40 CD/DVD mail piece designs approved by the PCSC for automated letter processing.
Postal engineers knew it.
Postal operations people knew it.
Postal management also knows that much of the letter mailstream, which is in compliance with DMM specifications, is not compatible with letter processing equipment.  Customers, on the other hand, still assume that mail piece designs meeting the DMM physical requirements for automated letters are compatible with mail processing equipment.
Postal engineers have set up a testing program to see which mail piece designs are compatible with their equipment and which designs should be removed from the letter mail stream.  If the testing parameters established for the test represent possible changes to the DMM, the letter mail stream is going to see a bigger transformation than flat mailers experienced in 2007.  In the face of coming changes, it is important for customers to be proactive with their mail piece designs, ensuring that the pieces they produce are compatible with letter processing equipment.  Instead of waiting to find out the results of the engineering test and proposed changes to the DMM, customers need to take their pieces to a processing plant and watch them run on the sorting equipment.
If the pieces can be processed through a DBCS five to six times without jamming or incurring damage, fifty pieces should be given to their local MDA requesting a national ruling on the design’s eligibility for automated letter rates.  The MDA will forward the pieces to the PCSC for testing and approval.  An approval letter authorizes the mail piece design to be mailed at auto letter rates, regardless of current or future DMM requirements.
This process is currently required for letter sized mail pieces carrying CD/DVDs.  With the increasing number of disc mailers being presented to acceptance units and the large number of incompatible designs entering the mail stream, the PCSC took control of the approval process ensuring consistency in rulings and compatibility with letter processing equipment.  This testing and approval process has been in effect for more than a year and works relatively well.
If on the other hand customers discover that processing equipment has significant issues with the mail they produce, now is the time to rework their designs to make their product compatible.  The DBCS machines are amazing pieces of equipment and with a little tweaking, significant issues in preparation or design can be eliminated.  What we have found in our development and testing of CD/DVD designs is that cover thickness, mail piece length, weight, density or even changing the center of gravity of a mail piece will affect feeding, processing and landing within the sorting equipment.
Landing?  Never heard of a DMM requirement for how a piece lands within a machine?  Well (currently) there is none, but how a piece lands in the pocket of a DBCS machine is critical to whether a letter is compatible with automated processing.  Due to weight, density or rigidity, a mail piece can either not clear the pocket or bounce out of the pocket.  If it doesn’t clear, it backs mail up into the DBCS causing a jam.  If the piece bounces in the pocket it can be hard for an operator to sweep the pocket or literally fly out of the DBCS, landing on the floor and falling out of sortation.
The cover weight of a mail piece affects feeding.  Too light, the piece is prone to fold-over (covering the address), shredding, jamming or compressing in the pocket like an accordion.  The length of the piece also affects processing.  Too short, thin and stiff, the piece gets stuck between drive pulleys.  Too long and thick and the piece won’t clear the pocket.  Long thin cards curl in the pocket instead of stacking.  Slick cards create static cling and/or fly out of the machine like confetti.
Minor changes in package design have tremendous affects on the machinability of a mail piece.  The only way to make the necessary changes in a design is to watch the pieces run, and run and run.  After doing a test it is necessary to look for machine marks and damage to identify what the machine is doing to the piece, then redesign and run the piece again.
As an example, we had a customer that wanted us to get approval for a CD mailer that was a 6” x 9” piece made from 100# uncoated cover with one disc and a 16 page uncoated catalog stitched in.  The piece fed and ran well on the DBCS but when it got to the pocket it hit so hard it bounced completely out of the machine and ended up on the floor.
We redesigned the package making it 6” x 10 ½”, 80# coated cover with a single disc and a 16 page coated catalogue.  Extending the length made it possible for the DBCS to control the piece longer as it entered the pocket.  Using a lighter weight coated paper reduced the piece’s rigidity with a reduction in density.  Doing both reduced the bounce.  This piece passed our testing and was subsequently tested and approved by the PCSC for automated letter rates, having proven its machine compatibility.
The primary reason to go through the PCSC for final testing and approval is that customers end up with a mail piece design proven to be compatible with postal automation.  If we prove our pieces are compatible the Postal Service can not deny the use of the applicable rates, regardless of the DMM regulations.  Their goal is to increase the volume of compatible mail.  Our goal should be to produce interesting, creative, and effective mail piece designs that are compatible with their processing equipment.  It’s easier for customers to develop automation compatible mail pieces than it is for the Postal Service to redesign or deploy new equipment.

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