USPS Selling Old Sorting Machines

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The U.S. Postal Service is selling its old automated flat sorting machines -- known in the industry as FSM 881s -- to the general public for $55,000 each.


In a Feb. 14 listing in Commerce Business Daily, the USPS announced that the excess FSM 881s with software licenses, documentation, and service support were available for sale to major mailers, equipment brokers, and entrepreneurs.


The FSM 881s are mechanized flat sorters with Flat Mail Optical Character Readers, which provide the capability to process barcode and non-barcode flats on the same sort program. The FSM 881 has a maximum sort rate of 14,000 to 20,600 pieces per machine hour, depending on the mail is processed.


According to the MaryAnn Smith, contracting officer, USPS, direct mail marketers that prepare their mail before they give it to the postal service can use the machines to "help them prepare their mail better, and be able to take better advantage of presort discounts with the postal service."


In general, presort rates offer substantial savings for mailers. Flat size pieces presorted to 3-digit ZIP codes eligible for automation results in postage of savings 25.5 percent of the basic non-automation rate. For presort to 5-digit ZIP codes, the savings is 41.7 percent of the basic non-automation rate. The machines can also help mailing companies save money on their production costs. When the USPS used the sorters, for example, the cost of processing flats manually cost $63.62 per 1,000 pieces, while the cost of processing flats in the mechanized mode was only $39.82 per 1,000 pieces.


The USPS first put a listing on CBD about these machines last year, and as a result, "we have already gotten rid of quite a few of them," said Smith. "But we are trying it again. This is our last shot at it." While she wasn't aware of how many machines were actually available, she said about one hundred machines are still.


The systems will be available at mail processing centers across the United States until about June 2002.


"Anyone interested would have to actually make an appointment to visit a facility to see one," Smith said.


Smith also said that $55,000 is the bare minimum price the machines would cost, and that mailers interested must have the capital "to buy spare parts, arrange for software to construct the machine to their site, and be able to cover the costs associated with getting the machine out of the postal facility and bringing it to their facility."


Mailers interested in this program can download the information from www.fedbizopps.gov, the government point-of-entry site for federal government procurement opportunities over $25,000. They can then send inquiries and indications of interest via e-mail to MaryAnn Smith (smithmx@email.usps.gov) and Richard Batts (rbatts@email.usps.gov).


The systems are available because the USPS is now using the even more advanced Automated Flat Sorting Machine 100. The USPS deployed the first of the machines in April 2000 in Harrisburg, PA, he said, and now the agency has 428 machines operating in 184 locations. The new machines, AFSM 100s, are more than twice as fast as the existing FSM 881s, and as a result, will process flat mail more efficiently and reduce associated costs. Smith said the USPS is not replacing all of the FSM 881s with AFSM 100s, however.


Meanwhile, major printers and flat mailers are disappointed in the results of a Mail Characteristics Study for the ASFM 100 flat sorting machines.


Apparently, mailers were expecting that the AFSM 100s would be able to handle much more diverse flats mail stream than the older FSM 881's they are replacing. Further, they have ripped the covers of off magazines. The USPS has said it is working with the manufacturer of the machines-Northrup Grumman-on the problems. The USPS also said the study is not complete.


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