USPS tests technology to speed delivery

The U.S. Postal Service is testing new technology designed to more rapidly and efficiently process, distribute and deliver letter mail that postal authorities refer to as flats — large envelopes, magazines, catalogs and circulars.

The Postal Service Board of Governors approved Dec. 6 the initiative, known as the Flats Sequencing System (FSS) program. USPS can now move forward with its plans to use sophisticated equipment that will sort flat mail for letter carriers, who must now do it manually before departing for their routes.

The FSS equipment is designed to sequence flat mail at a rate of about 16,500 pieces per hour. Scheduled to operate 17 hours a day, each machine will be capable of sequencing 280,500 pieces a day to more than 125,000 delivery addresses.

“Using technology to sort flat mail into the order of delivery for letter carriers will increase efficiency in the office and allow carriers to begin delivering to their customers earlier in the day,” said Walt O’Tormey, vice president of engineering at USPS. “The postal service experienced significant benefits in the 1990s by automating the processing and sequencing of letter mail, and we hope to extend these improvements to the processing of flats.”

A prototype FSS was tested earlier this year at the Indianapolis Mail Processing Annex. A full-size preproduction machine is scheduled to be installed soon at the Dulles, Va., mail processing facility, where it will operate six days a week from August 2007 to July 2008.

USPS will study and measure the system’s effect on transportation, logistics, work methods and other long lead-time activities required to support deployment in 2008.

Phase I of the program calls for an initial order of 100 FSS machines that will be installed at 33 postal facilities beginning in the summer of 2008. USPS gave no details, however, about the cost of the machines or the companies that will get contracts to provide and maintain them.
The program is expected to reduce costs, a major issue of the independent agency.

“Delivery remains our largest cost, accounting for 43 percent of all expenses,” O’Tormey said. “That, combined with costs to serve almost 2 million new addresses each year, means we must pursue every opportunity to improve our efficiency and the service we provide to our customers.”

In July, USPS completed the presolicitation process for a contract to run its Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 project management office.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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