Service performance and efficiency have gained more from the automation of mail processing activities than from any other single factor. The most significant current development is the introduction of the Flats Sequencing System (FSS), which will do for flat-shaped mail what delivery barcode sorters have been doing for letters since 1993 — automating the placement of mail into the order in which it is delivered. In addition, continuing enhancements of existing equipment extend the benefits of automated processing and present new opportunities to reduce costs and improve service.

Letter Mail Automation

Address recognition rates for letter mail continued to improve as additional equipment and software upgrades were deployed. Phase 2 of the Distribution Quality Improvement (DQI) program improved recognition of handwritten and machine-printed addresses by incorporating additional information from commercially available name and address databases. The DQI improvements allowed more letters to remain in the automated mail stream and further reduced keying requirements at Remote Encoding Centers.

Upgrades to letter mail processing equipment have enabled IM barcode capabilities. The new data-rich environment is a significant step forward in letter mail tracking. Preparation for the deployment of new letter cancellation equipment continued. Deployment of 550 Advanced Facer Canceller System (AFCS) 200 machines is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2010. The AFCS 200 will replace older letter cancellation equipment and improve performance by reducing handling in downstream processing operations.

A project is underway to convert excess carrier sequence barcode sorters into low-cost reject encoding equipment. Mail with unreadable barcodes is currently labeled by outdated letter mail labeling machine technology. The new equipment will cover an unreadable barcode with a white label, interpret the mailing address, and apply the correct barcode. The Central Repair Facility in Topeka is manufacturing the low-cost reject equipment that will be deployed starting in 2010.

Testing was completed to determine machinability requirements for letter-size booklets, called “Slim Jims.” The Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) was updated to incorporate the new letter-size booklet machinability requirements, which went into effect on September 8.

Flat Mail Automation

New ink jet canceller modification kits were installed on 230 Automated Flat Sorting Machine (AFSM) 100s located at over 200 sites to enable the equipment to cancel postage on flat-size envelopes and eliminate other manual and mechanical cancellation.

Under the Flat Recognition Improvement Program, testing of the next AFSM 100 software release was conducted to increase read rates and reduce error rates, resulting in fewer misdirected mailpieces. Deployment was scheduled for October 2009.

Flats Sequencing System

Designed to fully automate the sorting of flat mail into carrier walk sequence, the production FSS was initially put into live operational service in the Northern Virginia Dulles facility. Eight additional systems began operation in Dulles, Columbus, Kansas City, and Phoenix. By year end, FSS processing has expanded to over 2,255 routes in more than 76 delivery units. Even though the first year of FSS operation has helped identify opportunities to fine-tune operational planning and methods, the potential of FSS that fully performs to contract requirements is evident: route adjustments will eliminate full-time routes; equipment used by carriers to sort flat mail will be reduced; and vehicles will be reduced or redeployed.

When fully implemented, Phase 1 of FSS will deploy 100 systems to 42 sites; the goal is to complete this phase in 2011. Due to the significant mail volume decline, an analysis was completed that identified opportunities to redirect up to 19 FSS machines to new locations that better ensure expected levels of savings. FSS deployment requires precise integration of facility expansions, operational moves, equipment migrations, equipment disposals, and site preparation activities including training and staffing. Site readiness in all 31 original Phase 1 locations is complete. Readiness activities for the redirection sites are underway in those 13 locations.

All major FSS preparation milestones are closely monitored to ensure successful implementation. Area and District FSS program managers have been established for all Phase 1 sites. Comprehensive hands-on training was provided to several hundred key personnel, and online training is used to provide continuing field training and support. To support ongoing maintenance and training, two FSS units have been installed at the National Center for Employee Development in Norman, Oklahoma.

An ergonomic stowage and retrieval system has been designed for delivery vehicles receiving FSS flats with a limited deployment set for 2010. An FSS optimization effort is underway in Northern Virginia to streamline current operations and reduce manual processing of flats. Lean Six Sigma tools are being applied to standardize operational methods prior to national implementation.

postal worker using the fss

The Flats Sequencing System (FSS) automates the placement of larger mailpieces in the order in which they are delivered, which reduces the time carriers need to prepare the mail for delivery.

Parcel and Bundle Automation

The Automated Package Processing System (APPS) automates package and bundle distribution while providing greater processing capacity using automatic induction, singulation, and address recognition. The Postal Service deployed APPS recognition software improvements to increase sorting accuracy and the Sort Accuracy Improvement (SAI) program. The SAI enhancement began in September 2009 and was completed in November 2009 to minimize doubles and flyovers, thus reducing misdirected mail and improving service. Also, three existing APPS machines were redeployed to optimize utilization. Additional savings opportunities of $58 million have been identified from a variety of planned optimization efforts that include redesigned package separations, additional equipment redeployments, and replication of a Lean Six Sigma project to reduce rejects and broken bundles.

Postal Automated Redirection System

The Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS) identifies and redirects forwardable mail during processing, a significant advance over legacy systems that required the transport of forwardable mail to Centralized Forwarding System (CFS) units for redirection. Initial PARS deployment was completed in 2007 to 283 sites, and since then, CFS sites have been consolidated as PARS technology has improved and distribution reach has expanded. During 2009, eight additional CFS sites were consolidated, reducing the total number from a high of 215 to 88. The volume of mail processed on PARS now stands at more than 3.4 billion pieces each year compared to less than 40 million pieces processed through CFS.

A new PARS software release deployed in May enhanced system performance. It improved recognition rates and increased interception rates, thereby producing savings at plants and RECs. It also allowed for expanded mailer identification codes, from 6- to 9-digits. Thus, customers mailing automation letters get complete IM barcode data within each OneCode ACS record. The upgrade incorporated changes needed to support the launch of IM Full-Service address correction services.

Remote Encoding system

The Remote Encoding System (RES) is a developmental program that began in 2005 as a replacement for the aging Image Processing Subsystem (IPSS). Mail is processed on letter sorting equipment that reads barcodes and addresses electronically. Mail that cannot be read is processed through IPSS, which presents images to REC employees who read the addresses and type in the results, thereby reducing manual handling. The RES design phase was completed in 2008 and testing and evaluation began in 2009. Recent business environment changes, including significant declines in letter volumes and current investment constraints, have caused IPSS replacement plans to be put on hold. Instead, maintenance of the existing IPSS infrastructure with some minor changes will be pursued. Planned changes will minimize reliance on IPSS by enhancing machine transports and software. Also, IPSS end-of-life will be extended by deploying more Remote Input/Output Subsystem sites.

Integrated Data System and National Directory Support System

New Integrated Data System – National Directory Support System (IDS-NDSS) hardware was deployed nationwide as a replacement for the existing end-of-life hardware at processing plants and Network Distribution Centers (NDCs). The IDS-NDSS replacement systems use common, modular, high-reliability computer hardware that provides several benefits over the prior technology. The new hardware can be expanded to meet future requirements and provides the redundancy necessary to support service requirements of the hosted applications/services. It is designed to handle the increased data volumes and data transactions projected over its expected five-year life cycle.

The IDS provides the infrastructure for the management of in-process distribution operations, machine performance, and critical maintenance events within a facility. It collects and distributes mailpiece, tray, and container tracking data as well as operating data from all automated processing and material handling equipment to multiple applications.

The NDSS maintains all mail processing sort programs and address directory files that underlie the automated processing of mail. It holds all street address and ZIP Code information for the entire country. NDSS also provides the conduit to mail processing equipment for the COA files used to process undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) mail. Additionally, NDSS interfaces with the Address Management System (AMS) for the daily generation of DPS sort programs.

Mail History Tracking System

The Mail History Tracking System (MHTS) is a Web-based application that uses barcode data to track individual mailpieces from the origin (cancellation) to DPS processing. The MHTS application can assess if individual mailpieces are likely to meet on-time performance targets and helps target and correct the root causes that lead to service failures before mail goes out to the carrier. MHTS is an important tool contributing to improvements in service performance.

Material Handling

The Integrated Dispatch and Receipt (IDR) program combined the acquisition of machines for dispatching and receiving operations with integrated tray transport systems to reduce work hours associated with these activities. By the end of 2007, site-specific IDR systems consisting of over 1,300 pieces of equipment had been deployed to 211 plants. Since that time, 67 requests for additional IDR equipment have been received and are in development or being deployed. Contracts have been issued to build additional Automatic Tray Sleevers, Automatic Tray Unsleevers, trayline integration to support these deployments, and Enhanced Airline Assignment systems.

Plants and transportation hubs are benefitting from the deployment of high-speed tray sorters that automate letter tray sortation. Deployment is also underway for Tray Depalletizer and Singulator systems, which automate the handling of palletized trays, loading them into existing tray sorters to increase efficiency.

The Powered Industrial Vehicle Management System (PIVMS) is an analytical tool for managing the use of powered industrial vehicles, such as forklifts and tugs. Workhour, equipment, and maintenance costs have been reduced significantly since deployment. System enhancements enable improved oversight through roll-up reporting and performance comparisons. Over 100 plants are using PIVMS with annual savings of $80 million expected.

Biohazard Detection Equipment

The Postal Service uses a fully contained, automated Biohazard Detection System (BDS) to protect against potential contamination. Initial deployment of BDS equipment was completed in November 2005. BDS Dual-collection (BDS-DC) system conversions completed in August 2008 allow one BDS cabinet to connect to two Advanced Facer Canceller Systems and have reduced consumable expenses (i.e., filters) by 40 percent without sacrificing efficiency or effectiveness.