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Mailing & fulfillment

Jun 1, 2004 12:00 AM


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Mailing and fulfillment, if done right, can be a profitable new-business opportunity for printers. According to Clint Bolte, principal, C. Clint Bolte & Associates (Chambersburg, PA), the Direct Marketing Assn. (DMA) is forecasting an annual 4.9 percent growth in direct mailing through 2007. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is also doing its share to drive this business: A new ad campaign launched in April specifically promotes direct mail.

But printers must also be aware of the challenges of mailing and fulfillment. Mailing requirements can get very specific (see “‘Ask Marcus’ your postal questions,” opposite). And, notes Bolte, it was stressed at the recent NAPL (Paramus, NJ) mailing and fulfillment conference that making fulfillment a profit center requires commitment from both top management and the sales force, as well as a documented business plan. Communication — including quarterly business reviews between vendor and client — was deemed crucial for a successful fulfillment relationship.

Other items that the consultant noted from the conference:

  • Most start-up fulfillment operations rely heavily on temporary employees

  • The sales cycle for fulfillment can be long and involved, potentially taking up to a year or more, according to Tom Quinn, director of fulfillment for the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Assn. (Alexandria, VA)

  • Productivity on kitting projects typically requires reliable employees; a strong manager; and documented procedures for order entry, labeling, warehouse and hand-assembly processes.

As for equipment, printers have a wide selection to choose from. We've gathered some of the latest offerings that can help you get started on your mailing and fulfillment operation.

USPS-certified addressing software

The latest release of Firstlogic Inc.'s (La Crosse, WI) Directory Retrieval System (DRS) addressing software, V6.01.01.I, meets the USPS Coding Accuracy Support System and Multiline Accuracy Support System requirements scheduled to go into effect this September. The software reportedly allows organizations to consolidate and assign 11-digit bar codes to mail pieces in compliance with USPS guidelines to gain postage discounts.

Improvements to the software include the ability to correctly handle street addresses that overlap another address line and the ability to add latitude and longitude coordinates to a scanned address.

Versatile transport systems

Videojet Technologies Inc. (Wood Dale, IL) has added two new models to its Cheshire line of graphics transport systems. The Model 5100 Transports reportedly provide a dependable conveyor, with a “no-frills” construction and operating speeds up to 400 fpm. The Bump-Turn conveyor accepts product and turns it 90 degrees; the Turnover model will accept and turn the product 180 degrees for secondary applications on the opposite side; and Shingling conveyors use two belts to allow for easy unloading of shingled products. The Auto-Loader can be positioned inline or at a right angle to waterfall product directly into a feeding system for faster production times.

The Model 5200 Vacuum Transport system features modular construction for versatility: Material-handling modules can be added to allow imaging, tipping, card-finishing and vision-application systems. Multiple configurations are possible. The system operates at up to 700 fpm.

On-demand variable printing

Domino's (Gurnee, IL) Domino-ON-Demand is a complete variable-data printing system comprising estimating, prepress, proofing and printing modules. The system, which operates at up to 190 meters per minute, can run solvent-based, UV or Pantone inks. The internal database software reportedly can be networked to up to 16 four-inch-wide printheads, which may be mounted vertically or horizontally. UV curing options are available.

Domino-ON-Demand may be integrated into an existing web press or handling system, and is capable of outputting numerous products, including direct mail, plastic cards, and tickets, tags and labels, of widths up to 71 mm.

At Drupa, Domino's commercial printing division and Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (Heidelberg) (Heidelberg, Germany) announced Heidelberg will sell and distribute Domino's variable-data printing products worldwide.

Mailing-list hygiene portal

The List Maximizer from USADATA (New York City) cleanses and updates mailing lists, reportedly improving deliverability by up to 30 percent. The Web-based system automatically runs 17 postal processes, including the USPS's National Change of Address (NCOA) and the Direct Marketing Assn.'s do-not-mail lists, plus address standardization and de-duplication. Users can upload .csv or .xls files, with up to 50,000 records per file and 20 reference fields per record. The system will provide three instant validation reports: a data quality report that measures file improvements, a mail-ready file that removes bad data and a hygiene-append file that records flagged entries. The List Maximizer has reportedly achieved match rates of up to 95 percent.

Midrange polywrapping system

Norpak USA (Minneapolis) offers the Polyprocessor polywrapping system for the midrange market. The servo-motor-driven system operates at up to 9,000 products per hour, with an integrated film-splicing system that reportedly allows for rapid film-roll changes. Through the PC-based control, operators can automatically set up wrapping jobs for both plain and printed poly film. Up to 32 separate job settings can be saved and recalled through a touchscreen panel.

Digital mailing system for mixed-weight products

The IJ105 digital mailing system from Neopost (Hayward, CA) is an in-motion weighing system that outputs up to 217 letters per minute. It features a static weighing platform for parcels and large items, and an in-motion weighing platform that automatically prints the correct postage. Hewlett-Packard inkjet technology is used to print the 2-D IBIP postage indicia.

Other standard features include a touchscreen panel and keyboard system, six preset memorized jobs, postage refill via direct modem connection, USPS domestic and international mail classes and special services, 10 advertising messages and departmental accounting. A high-capacity power stacker and other options are available.

UV-printing system

Kodak Versamark (Dayton, OH) has launched the DS4350 UV printing system, said to provide versatility to operations with variable-data imprinting requirements. The system's printhead uses piezoelectric drop-on-demand inkjet technology and offers a 2.58-inch-wide jetting array. The DS4350 reportedly produces dark, crisp characters and graphics, with resolutions of up to 300 × 600 dpi, on plastic, flexible packaging, paperboard and almost all paper substrates.

Barcode logging/matching software

Data-Trac software from Ga-Vehren Systems (St. Louis) can verify and log the match of a bar code on a letter to the magnetic stripe on a plastic card, a bar code on a letter to a bar code on a card, or bar codes on other documents, such as hangtags or key tags. The software will also collect and log data into a file for exporting to other programs on your server; scan for duplicates, proper sequence or missing numbers; and match documents that are only “tied” together in a database. Data-trac provides remote production reporting; users can further export reports in several formats.

Flat pack feeder

GBR's (Chester, CT) FPF 35 flat pack feeder can be interfaced to inserters, including Böwe Bell + Howell's Mastermailer, Buhrs' BB 300 and Mailcrafters' 1200/1200XL. The feeder operates at up to 40,000 sph.

The FPF 35 collector has a maximum capacity of 35 sheets of 24-lb. bond. Because flat inserters can typically put 100 sheets into an envelope, FPF can feed up to 100 sheets into an inserter track in three passes of 35, 35 and 30 pages. After it feeds the last set of pages, the FPF 35 issues a demand signal to the inserter to begin creating a new document. If connected to a packaging machine that can hold 999 sheets to be shrinkwrapped, the FPF 35 can put 28 sets of 35 sheets and one set of 19 sheets onto the track.

Inserter envelope feed option

Inscerco's (Crestwood, IL) inserter envelope feeder is offered as an option on the Mailcrafters 9800 product line. The conveyor-fed envelope feed hopper holds about 1,500 envelopes, which is said to minimize the operator's need to tend the feed hopper. The conveyor adjusts automatically to the length of the envelope. A remote adjustment knob allows fine adjustments to be made to the envelope separator screw. This new feeder option is offered on any new Mailcrafters 9800 and 9800L model inserter; retrofit kits are available to modify older model 9800s and 9800Ls.

Shrink bundler for random-size bundles

Arpac's (Schiller Park, IL) 75GI shrink bundler is designed specifically for the printing and publishing industry and operates at up to 75 bundles per minute. The system can shrink wrap random-size bundles, extremely short stacks and lightweight products on demand. Servo-driven sealing reportedly offers precision electronic control for accurate sealing action. The seal height can be electronically programmed to vary with product height.

Autoloading system

Longford Equipment International's (Toronto) AL700 Load Assist Autloader is reportedly designed to enhance productivity when using Longford friction feeders on a packaging or collation system. The AL700 holds the loaded product in an upright position. The product is then shingled, and when fed into the hopper of the friction feeder, kept straight by an automatic jogging system to ensure proper loading. The autoloader can feed products from 3 × 5 inches and 0.004 inches thick up to 9 × 12 inches and 1½ inches thick. Maximum loading capacity is up to 18,000 sheets.

Material integration; polybagger

Streamfeeder's (Minneapolis) Converge 900 uses servo motor technology to rapidly place items onto pieces traveling via transport systems — for example, credit cards onto folded and unfolded paper carriers. A modular design allows integration with numerous systems, feeding up to 20,000 pieces per hour. The system can reportedly dispense materials in sizes ranging from 2 × 2½ inches to 7 × 6 inches and up to ¼-inch thickness.

The QuickWrap polybag wrapping system, also from Streamfeeder, reportedly produces center-sealed bags at up to 50 packages per minute. The system is said to work well for short-run jobs that can't be run cost-effectively on larger systems. The QuickWrap can be used with a collator and transport, or offline as a manual standalone unit.

Presorting software; vision-verification

Böwe Bell + Howell (Chicago) has acquired cQuence, Inc. and its cQuencer software suite, a presort and manifest mailing application that allows users to produce mixed-weight mail pieces in a single mailing. cQuencer also provides all necessary postal documentation, which lets mixed-weight mailings qualify for automation savings on postage. Mailers can submit a detailed report on a mailing's contents and weights to the Postal Service and pay the exact amount of required postage at the time of delivery. The software analyzes a mailing's data prior to the printing process and reorders documents into the optimal sequence for insertion, without negating the presort order for USPS discounts.

Böwe Bell + Howell also has released JETVision V6.00 machine-vision modules. The symbol- and barcode-recognition technology has been updated with an automated learning interface, which increases JETVision's ability to handle document and environmental variations. Complex operator setup is said to be virtually eliminated, and the user interface has been retooled with easy-to-understand symbols and a multilingual support system. V6.00 can further reportedly read the specialized fonts used in banking and financial industries.

Variable-data mailing software

Netherlands-based variable-data software producer Atlas Software (which has sales and support offices throughout the U.S.) has launched PrintShop Mail 5.0 for Mac OS X and a beta version of PrintShop Mail 5.0 for Windows. The Windows edition includes new features, such as text overflow, copy fitting and object inspector, as well as an improved GUI and a newer implementation of PPML. The Windows version also has a print-automation option, which will allow a completely automated workflow, as in Web-To-Print applications.

Multi-imager printing system

The ACCUFAST PMx Printing System from Asmarc (Troy, NY) can reportedly support up to four imagers. The system can be upgraded in the field by merely adding imagers and recording their presence in the software. An adjustable belt speed, from 20 inches per second to 100 inches per second, further reportedly allows the PMx system to be seamlessly inserted into a variety of conveyor systems.

The PMx provides the ability to print, rotate and scale bitmap graphics. A strong vacuum holds the mail piece to the belt, reportedly allowing for better print quality; print resolution from the system ranges from 150 dpi to 600 dpi vertically and 300 dpi to 600 dpi horizontally. The encoder assembly on the PMx runs directly on the belt, accurately simulating the paper movement, while the software driving the imagers allows for stitching of an image across multiple pens and multiple imagers.

The system frame measures 16 inches high, 42 inches wide and 18 inches deep.

Automated wrapping system

The Buhrs (Plymouth, MN) 4700 film- and paper-wrapping system is designed for distribution of addressed sets of brochures and promotional mailings, and combines a low gathering section with mobile feeders, a servo-driven wrapping module and a new Buhrs System Controller (BSC). The 4700 is said to eliminate stopping between different jobs; changeover can be done while running.

An automatic wrap setup (AWS) feature reportedly measures the thickness and length of the product just before sealing, automatically adjusting the sealing position according to the information. Automatic feeder synchronization (AFS), standard on the Buhrs RF5 rotary feeder, automatically sets itself according to product dimensions measured by photocells. The AFS also synchronizes the timing and running speed of the RF5 with the main chain of the Buhrs film-wrapping system.

The BSC reportedly enables optimal communication between the supervisor and operators, and directly connects to the customer's database to retrieve production data. Each feeder on the film-wrapping system is equipped with its own separate display, which shows such information as which product is being fed, how many are remaining and what the next product will be.

Inkjet printheads for variable printing

The Sapphire inkjet printing system and BK1700 controller from Buskro (Pickering, Ontario) can reportedly print 2½-inch swaths per printhead at a resolution of 300 × 660 dpi. The Sapphire printer prints fully variable text, graphics, bar codes and numbers at speeds from one meter per second to four meters per second. Eight Sapphire printheads can be controlled from one BK1700 controller.

Featuring Windows-based Compose IQ layout and tracking software, the BK1700 accepts any common database format and tracks data across all printheads simultaneously. Up to 99 fields of customized information per record can be printed in an area up to 20 inches tall. The BK1700 also features a fully integrated communication system for each printhead that monitors system status.

Extended USPS support for mail presort software

BCC Software (Rochester, NY) has added support for PS Form 3602-C to its flagship product, Mail Manager 2010 presorting and list-management software. The USPS requires Form 3602-C (consolidated postage statement supplement) from larger mailers using the Plant Verified Drop Shipment (PVDS) method of verification and acceptance.

High-volume mailers reportedly use the PVDS option to avoid the hassle and expense of delivering mail to USPS facilities. Instead, mail is verified and accepted by USPS clerks permanently assigned to the mailer's facility. This newly supported feature of Mail Manager 2010 allows users to append multiple 3602 forms into one statement.

DOD inkjetting for substrate flexibility

At Drupa, Jetrion (Ann Arbor, MI) introduced a drop-on-demand (DOD) monochrome inkjet printing system co-developed with Graph-Tech. The 3025 can incorporate multiple 2.4-inch printheads and delivers 316 dpi across and up to 526 dpi in the process direction, at speeds up to 250 fpm with UV inks and up to 400 fpm with solvent inks. Mailing applications include addressing on uncoated papers or printing on polybags and coated substrates. The Graph-Tech MIC controller features image-layout capabilities, which simplifies production of variable codes and marks.


Marcus J. Smith has been editor and publisher of “Postal World” for 22 years. Contact him at msmith@ucg.com. For a free sample issue of “PW,” visit www.mypostalworld.com/sample.

‘Ask Marcus’ your postal questions

Got questions on mailing? Marcus J. Smith regularly addresses his readers' questions and problems in his “Ask Marcus” column in “Postal World,” an independent newsletter for business mailers. We asked him to delve into his archives for the answers to printers' most urgent inquiries.

My shop is branching out into mailing and fulfillment. What is MERLIN?

MERLIN stands for Mail Evaluation Readability Lookup Instrument. It is the latest device that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has deployed to make the verification of discount-rated letters and flats — especially automation rate mail — more consistent. USPS has fully deployed MERLIN at all its major business-mail acceptance sites — almost 1,200 in all. These include USPS facilities and Detached Mail Units, which are situated at large mailer plants. The device checks a number of key acceptance points, including aspect ratio, general layout, reflectance and barcode quality.

It's important to understand three things about MERLIN:

  1. MERLIN is not enforcing new regulations. Rather, it finally gives USPS the capacity to enforce regulations that have been on the books for years, especially with regard to barcode quality.

  2. MERLIN is only as good as the operator who runs it — evaluations are not always perfect. If you believe that MERLIN has made an error, you should appeal.

  3. MERLIN will eventually be used to check a delivery-point bar code against the address on the piece to ensure the two match. To that end, USPS has begun using MERLIN to detect “0000” and the improper use of “9999” in the +4 section of the ZIP code. The “0000” has always been prohibited; the “9999” can only be used for ZIP codes with that as a valid +4 section (this normally applies to general delivery).

Under this enforcement, just one piece with a “0000” or “9999” barcode error will flunk the entire mailing. You will either have to pay the added postage (since automation rate eligibility is lost) or take the mailing back to be reworked and return with proof that all errors have been eliminated. Since enforcement began in mid-January, 184 mailings have been detected with these errors. The highest additional postage assessed was $17,777. Regular use of CASS-certified ZIP+4 update software should prevent these address database problems.

Finally, as of July 31, USPS is upping the barcode readability requirement for flats. The read rate will have to be 90 percent — the same as for letters — or higher to retain all automation discounts.

The best way to avoid MERLIN errors is to maintain contact with your local USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA), and submit a sample piece before production. To look up your local MDA, see http://pe.usps.gov/mpdesign/mpdfr_mda_lookup.htm.

For more on MERLIN and the appeal process, visit www.usps.com/merlin.

What can mail at Standard Mail rates, and what must be mailed First Class?

The short answer is anything that has the characteristics of “actual and personal correspondence” — such as a pure statement of account, bill or check made out to a specific entity — must be sent First Class.

The more complicated reality, however, is that advances in computer-generated personalization and permissive rulings over the years by USPS have blurred the lines between personalization that's allowed for Standard Mail and the “actual and personal correspondence” of First Class.

For that reason, USPS has just issued a proposed clarification of the circumstances in which personal information may be included in Standard Mail. The proposal could radically change what your clients may send as Standard Mail, the key stipulation being that the piece must pass an “exclusive purpose” test. Under the proposal, if the exclusive purpose is a solicitation for a sale or contribution, then almost any personal data that directly relates to the solicitation could be included at Standard Mail rates. But many questions still exist about “dual-purpose” pieces, especially among nonprofit mailers. The proposal is open for comment until June 18. To read the proposed clarification, see http://ribbs.usps.gov/files/fedreg/usps2004/04-8722.txt.

By the way, non-personalized pieces or physical items weighing less than 16 oz. that currently go out as Standard Mail will not be impacted by this proposal.

When will USPS institute its next rate hike, and how much will it be?

It takes 10 months to adjudicate a proposed omnibus postage-rate hike before the Postal Rate Commission. USPS is expected to submit its proposal late this year, and it's expected to take effect in early 2006. Because of federal legislation (Civil Service Retirement System reform) that has placed billions of USPS dollars in an escrow fund, and which also now requires USPS to pay billions toward the military-service portion of its employees' retirement, USPS may request a hike in excess of 10 percent — about double what it might have done otherwise.

Postal-reform legislation can change the rules on these sequestered or diverted funds, but the chances of its passage in time with the needed provisions are iffy. See http://reform.house.gov/.

Fulfillment practices

NAPL has released its “Survey of Fulfillment Practices Report,” a 38-page examination of fulfillment as a diversification strategy for printing companies. The report draws on data from 140 printers, of which more than two-thirds already provide fulfillment services, and offers their dos and don'ts for a successful operation. The report costs $149 ($99 for members). To order, call (800) 642-6275, ext. 1318.