A lot has already been written and said about the new Intelligent Mail barcode (IMB) introduced by the United States Postal Service® (USPS®).  But with how much information has been floating around and just how busy everybody gets these days, the reality is that you may have been pushing IMB to the side waiting for someone to break it down to a manageable chunk.  Well, here's your chance to catch up on things.


The Beginning

On January 7, 2008 the USPS published in the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rule changes regarding the implementation of the IMB.  The proposed rules stated that mailers would be required to meet one of two options using the IMB in order to attain automated presort rates on letters and flats beginning in January 2009.  Below is a brief summary of the information presented in that Federal Register. 


Option 1 - Basic Service - A 31-digit Intelligent Mail barcode comprising the Mailer ID, delivery point routing code, service type identifier and optional endorsement line (OEL), if an OEL is printed on the mailpiece, will be required on all letters and flats.


Option 2 - Full Service - There are several requirements a mailer must meet in order to comply with the Full Service option:


1.   Mailpiece barcode.  A 31-digit Intelligent Mail barcode comprising the Mailer ID, delivery point routing code, service type identifier, special services code and unique serial number will be required on all letters and flats. 

 2.   Tray Barcode.  A 24-digit Intelligent Mail tray barcode will be required on all letter trays, flat trays and sacks.  This barcode will consist of the routing information, Mailer ID and a unique serial number. 

3.   Container Barcode.  A 21-digit Intelligent Mail container barcode will be required on all pallets, APCs, rolling stock, gaylords, etc.  This barcode will consist of the Mailer ID and a unique serial number.   

4.   Electronic Documentation.  Mailers will be required to submit their postage statements and mailing documentation electronically to the USPS PostalOne!® system using one of the following three methods:  Mail.dat®, Wizard Web Services or Postage Statement Wizard. 

5.   FAST (Facility Access and Shipment Tracking).  Mailers will be required to schedule appointments using the FAST system for drop-ship mailings and all origin-entered mail verified at a detached mail unit (DMU). 

* - The serial number will be required to maintain uniqueness for a period of 45 days from the date of induction. 



The Middle

Based on the January Federal Register notice, the mailing industry responded in force.  The Postal Service received nearly 2,000 responses with one thing ringing clear from most of them:  January 2009 was not enough time.  So, On April 30, 2008 the USPS published an updated Federal Register notice concerning the implementation of the Intelligent Mail Barcode.  Here are some of the highlights from that updated Federal Register:


  • Implementation of the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) is being changed from January 2009 to May 2009 to coincide with the annual price change for Mailing Services.
  • POSTNET barcodes will be accepted for discounts on automation letters and flats through May 2010.
  • The implementation of the IMB is only for letters and flats.  Other mail types such as parcels and Not Flat-Machinables will be addressed in the future.
  • Beginning in May 2009, 11-digit delivery point barcodes will be required on automation flats. 
  • Beginning in May 2010, reply mail (Business Reply Mail, Courtesy Reply Mail, Meter Reply Mail and Permit Reply Mail) will be required to have an IMB. 
  • The announcement of the May 2009 price change, expected in the February/March 2009 timeframe, will include a separate price structure for the IMB Full Service option, which will be lower than the Basic Service (and POSTNET) prices. 
  • The mail owner's Mailer ID (MID) will not be required as part of the IMB for Full Service mailings.  A mail preparer (service provider) can use their MID in the IMB, subject to the guidelines specified in "A Guide to Electronic Documentation and Appointments for Full-Service Mailings" available at www.ribbs.usps.gov
  • At this time FAST appointments will only be required for drop-shipments to applicable DBMC, DADC or DSCF destinations for Periodicals, Standard Mail and Package Services mailpieces.  FAST appointments will not be required for First-Class Mail and origin-entered mailings of all classes when accepted at a DMU.
  • In regards to the unique numbering of full-service mailpieces, the uniqueness will be derived from a combination of the serial number ID, Mailer ID and Service Type ID.  However, when mailers separate trays and containers by price category for mailings of less than 10,000 pieces, mailpieces may have the same serial number on all mailpieces.
  • Mailers will be able to use the 10/24 version of the Intelligent Mail Tray label (IMTL) before May 2009.  They will have the option to migrate to the 24-digit IMTL in May 2009, however, mailers must not use the 24-digit IMTL before May 2009. 

The End

Well, no one really knows the end yet, or if the middle was really the middle or just Step 2 in a 4-step or 5-step process.  What is known, though, is that this process is far from over.  The industry responded en masse again to the second Federal Register notice, with several large and influential associations submitting very critical comments concerning the implementation schedule, the number of unanswered questions, the lack of a central repository for all this information, and more.  These comments were all submitted at the end of May so there won't be any official response from the USPS for some time, but everyone eagerly awaits more details. 


Check back here for further updates. 


Wallace Vingelis

Anchor Software, LLC

Director, Product Management & Postal Affairs