USPS approves sorting tech for flats

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Technology that boosted postal efficiencies in the processing, distribution and delivery of letter mail soon will be applied to the sorting of flats mail such as large envelopes, magazines, catalogs and circulars.

The Flats Sequencing System program was approved Dec. 6 by the USPS Board of Governors at its monthly meeting.

"[FSS] is an opportunity for the U.S. Postal Service to ultimately improve service, have more efficiency and reduce costs," said Leo Raymond, director of postal affairs at the Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association. "But there are still some unknowns. We don't have final specs yet, so we don't know whether flat mailers will need to change the size or shape of their mail pieces so they can be processed on these machines."

FSS will allow the sequencing of larger mail pieces in delivery point order. Flats are one of the most labor-intensive mail categories to process because of variations in size, thickness and address-label placement. The sequencing of larger mail pieces in delivery point order will reduce the time carriers need to prepare mail for delivery before leaving on their routes.

The USPS also is suggesting that mailers change the location of their customers' addresses on flats mail. Customer address labels may have to move from the bottom right or left corner of a mail piece to the top center to make it easier for carriers to finger the mail and load it into mailboxes. There is no technical need for this, however, and no decision has been made.

Mailers expressed concern that fewer people may open their mail, thus lowering response rates, if the address position changes.

The FSS equipment is designed to sequence flats mail at a rate of about 16,500 pieces per hour. Scheduled to operate 17 hours per day, each machine can sequence 280,500 pieces daily to 125,000 delivery addresses.

Phase I of the program calls for an initial order of 100 FSS machines to be deployed to 33 postal facilities beginning in summer 2008.

In other action, the governors approved a fiscal year 2008 appropriations request totaling $153.4 million. This annual request to Congress includes $83.5 million in reimbursement for free services the USPS is required to provide, including free mail for blind people and for overseas voting. In addition, the request includes $29 million for the latest annual installment from the Revenue Forgone Reform Act of 1993.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the USPS Fiscal Year 2006 Annual Report, which will be available online later this month.

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