USPS begins slim jim catalog testing

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The U.S. Postal Service last month began testing to develop better standards for letter-size booklets, also known as "slim jim" catalogs, simultaneously cautioning catalogers who may be considering switching to this format that the mailing standards for these pieces are likely to change.

As more catalogers may switch to the lower-priced format in light of the current rate increase, the agency is concerned that printers will need more precise mailing standards to avoid fabricating slim jims that would jam the agency's delivery bar code sorters.

"About two weeks ago we started testing sample slim jims from printers to get a better idea of how to best develop standards for the slim jims," said Barry Walsh, operations specialist at the USPS. "It is hard to tell which factors are causing problems, whether it is tab positioning, tab strength or thickness, for example."

Slim jims measure up to 6.125 inches by 11.5 inches. The USPS considers them folded self-mailers and booklets. If they weigh 3 ounces or less and are tabbed, they are the largest size qualifying for letter-rate postage, which is significantly lower than the recently increased Standard Mail flats postage.

The USPS has said there are not many slim jims in the system now and that, when they do appear in USPS facilities, postal employees frequently put them through the more robust AFSM-100 flats sorter as opposed to the delivery bar code sorters, which handle letter mail. However, to get the lower rates, they will have to be able to go through the delivery bar code sorter machine.

The Postal Service is testing whether features such as thickness and tab strength on the mail pieces will have to change to ensure they are able to run on the DBCS machine. Each combination of characteristics being tested requires a specially fabricated test deck of 500 booklets that are uniform in all characteristics not tested, Mr. Walsh said.

Each deck is being tested on a DBCS machine in standard orientation. Then it is tested three more times with letters, in #10 envelopes, interspersed with the booklets, and then once upside down to test the spine on top. Finally, 50 consecutive booklets will be tested to the same bin to examine bin response.

Any damaged booklets will be extracted between runs.

"The first batch of test decks will be fabricated and tested this summer," Mr. Walsh said. "After the results are analyzed there will be a second round of discussions with printers and a second batch of test decks. The second batch will check varieties of slim jims that require closer examination based on results from the first batch of tests."

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