USPS says FSS on track

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Postal Service is on track to go live with the first phase of its flats sequencing system in September 2008.

The flats sequencing system program is designed to boost postal efficiencies in the processing, distribution and delivery of letter mail that will soon be applied to the sorting of flats mail such as large envelopes, magazines, catalogs and circulars. It will allow the sequencing of larger mail pieces in delivery point order in an effort to reduce the time carriers need to prepare mail for delivery before leaving on their routes.

"September 2008 is the target," said Rosa Fulton, executive director of flats sequencing for the USPS, who gave a presentation on the system at the quarterly Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee meeting last week. "It may change - it's not carved in stone, but I don't see it being a lot different."

Ms. Fulton said by September 2008 that 100 systems, plus two prototype machines, will be live in 33 processing and distribution facilities throughout the USPS. Each facility will house between two to six systems.

In an announcement made last week, Northrop Grumman Corp. said it was awarded a $874.6 million fixed-price contract from the USPS to provide the 100 Flats Sequencing Systems. Northrop Grumman is serving as the FSS prime contractor. The company jointly developed the key technologies incorporated into FSS with Solystic, a subsidiary in France, and Siemens Energy & Automation Inc. in Arlington, TX. Deployment will be completed by 2010.

The machines will be available in 13 existing postal facilities, and 15 facilities will have to be expanded to make room for the sizeable machines that are used. Ms. Fulton also said machines will be included in five new facility projects.

A prototype FSS was installed in April at the Indianapolis Mail Processing Annex. A full-size pre-production machine will be installed at the Dulles, VA, mail processing facility in April, and operations will begin there in September. As this test proceeds, the USPS will study and measure the system's effect on downstream transportation, logistics, work methods and other long lead-time activities required to support deployment in 2008.

In an earlier presentation at MTAC, Postmaster General John E. Potter said the USPS still has many issues to work on regarding FSS.

"Space is a huge issue when it comes to these machines," Mr. Potter said. "The first thing to do is get that equipment in, make it run, make it successful, and then build upon that."

He said the agency will hold an FSS Summit May 17 in preparation for the major changes that will come for mailers and mail service providers.

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.

Some mailers have expressed concern that fewer people may open their mail, thus lowering response rates, if the address position changes. A MTAC workgroup, called "Address Location for Flats Sequencing System," completed a report on this issue, recommending that all addresses should be placed in a manner that increases the ability to locate and see the address block when flats are "verticalized" or placed standing up.

Address/label placement recommendations include:

• All flat mail must be output from the flats sequencing machine with the bound edges aligned unless envelope or polybagged.

• Addresses may appear on the front or back of the mail piece.

• If output with the bound edges aligned to the right, all addresses would appear in the top third of the mail piece (or the top half of smaller pieces, such as 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches), either perpendicular or parallel to the bound edge, final fold, or longest dimension. This alternative will allow periodicals mailers to retain their common "bottom front cover" address location and allow Standard Mail catalog customers to continue to place their addresses on the back cover without the possible need to re-orient the address.

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