July 27 2006 12:35 PM

Increasing the speed of inserting documents into envelopes has been the most important goal in document handling since the introduction of the first duplicating equipment. As a general rule, a person who hand folds and inserts documents into an envelope can do so at a rate of about 120 documents per hour. One could do more the first hour, but there is a significant diminishing return after a few hours, not to mention the OSHA nightmare of repetitive motion performing this task. Historically, few alternatives were available to small and mid-size companies.


Today's desktop and tabletop folder-inserters solve such problems by performing 10 to 20 times faster than folding and inserting by hand. The most important innovation in folder-inserters in the last 10 years was the introduction of the desktop folder-inserter in 1991. Desktop folder-inserters are smaller than tabletop units and are targeted for the office environment, rather than for mail centers. Desktops are the size of a small laser printer and are flexible, easy and quiet enough to operate in an office environment. Desktops process up to 10,000 pieces per month.


Since 1991, advancements in tabletop folder-inserters have been significant. The introduction of modular units, which are able to grow as needs or applications change, greatly improved flexibility and extended the life of each machine. Improvements in document handling and feeding allow users to process a wider variety of applications. For example, current tabletop units can fold and insert up to 50 sheets of paper into a flat envelope and up to eight sheets into a #10 envelope, which is twice the original standard. Document feeders are now more flexible in their ability to accommodate a wide range of paper sizes, from 81⁄2" x 11" to small inserts or business reply envelopes, making it easy to change applications and eliminating the need to buy separate feeders for each application. The most significant development is the ability to process different-size envelopes on the same tabletop machine, from 10" x 13" flats, down to #10 standard envelopes. In the past, users had to purchase separate machines for each envelope size.


Folder-inserters perform the most challenging document-handling tasks of all office machines, and therefore, must not only perform well, but also be durable. They also must be flexible to accommodate a variety of applications for current and future needs. Comparably, in an office copier, even the most perfect paper from a sealed, moisture-resistant wrapper can cause a jam. Now, consider running the same piece of paper through a copier after it has been printed on one side. The document will tend to jam more often after the first print pass because the paper has been heated and curled by the machine. Folder-inserters never run just blank paper. Folder-inserters process documents already printed by laser, inkjet and even dot matrix printers. All printers change the paper slightly, which makes processing the paper more difficult. Folder-inserters also process return envelopes, glossy marketing material and other items. 


Businesses usually acquire a desk or tabletop folder-inserter for two reasons. The first is based on cost justification. For example, if a person hand folds and inserts documents into an envelope at a speed of 120 per hour, the task of folding and inserting 12,000 documents would take approximately 100 hours. Multiply this by the labor rate, including salary and benefits. Compare this figure to a tabletop folder-inserter with a processing speed of 4,000 pieces per hour. The equivalent processing time would be only three hours. In this scenario, a company can save 97 hours out of 100 or 97% of its labor cost! The second reason for acquiring a tabletop unit is usually production speed. If, for example, a company finishes printing payroll checks at 12:00 and the checks need to be express mailed by 3:30, the job must be processed quickly and accurately. The alternatives are either hand folding checks (which can result in loss of security, as others see the checks) or processing them through a folder-inserter. 


Two types of buyers usually purchase desktop and tabletop folder-inserters. The first are those who are hand folding and want to move to an automated system. This group looks for speed, security and improvement. These buyers are not often aware desktop and tabletop versions of the big floor model machines are available. Nor are they informed buyers who have a base line to judge equipment. The second group of buyers is already sold on the cost savings over hand folding and inserting. It already uses a desktop or tabletop unit and wants to know how a new unit will perform better than its current model. Often skeptical, it knows first hand the difficulties of dealing with a paper-handling product and will focus on how to clear a stoppage and on other relevant product features.


Despite the electronic revolution, demand for desktop and tabletop folder-inserters has increased. Although some business-to-business communication has moved to

e-mail, communication with consumers is still primarily through the U.S. Postal Service. Desktop publishing, which enabled even small companies to develop and mail professional-quality documents and marketing literature, greatly increased the demand for desktop and tabletop folder-inserters. The steady growth of direct marketing and the continuing need for companies to send bills, direct-deposit confirmations and other official documents through the mail ensures an ongoing demand for folder-inserters and a corresponding commitment by vendors to their development.


Tony Kuchta is vice president, Document Handling Group, for Neopost Inc., Hayward, CA. For more information, call 800-624-7892 or visit www.neopost.com.