The United States Postal Service has been hard at work for the last couple of years on the newest, greatest piece of sortation equipment. While they have been sorting letter mail to Delivery Point Sequencing (DPS) for many years, and saving labor at the delivery unit, flat mail (magazines, catalogs, and some First-Class flats) have eluded this level of sorting up until now. Today, flat mail is sorted into delivery sequence by the carrier at the delivery unit. It can take up to three hours to assemble flats to be loaded on the truck, and sent to the streets.

Why is this time so important? The cost of labor to the USPS is estimated at 80% of their total cost of operating. And when one thinks of the fact that the USPS delivers to approximate 150 million locations each and every day, the hours to sort flat mail are very significant, and very costly. The Flats Sequencing System (FSS) is designed to sort flat mail into Delivery Point Sequence (DPS), and thus eliminate all of these labor costs. And we all know what that means to the postage rate payer - reduce operating costs and reduce rate increases! And with the USPS scheduled to lose over $6 billion this year, it cannot be deployed soon enough!

The FSS has been under development for the last two plus years. The prototype was in Indianapolis, and the first installations are in the Dullas, VA processing facility. The USPS has studied the process well, and has learned a great deal about sorting flats to the destination/ delivery. It is all about "inputs and outputs". Proper inputs and timing result in proper outputs. Proper outputs result in accuracy of delivery and meeting of service standards.

This year, the FSS deployment begins in full force. Locations receiving the FSS this year will include finishing Dullas with a fourth machine, Columbus, Phoenix, Kansas City, and New Jersey. More locations are to be determined. The reduction in flat mail this year has caused the USPS to reconsider locations, and the number of FSS per location.

Now, what does this mean to mail owners, and mail service providers? First, mail owners need to consider two things - Critical Entry Times (CET's), and delivery service. Remember that sorting flat mail to the delivery level is all about "inputs and outputs". If a CET is missed by a flat mailer, their delivery MAY be delayed until the next day. On the flip side, if a CET is met, the flat mailer could experience and improvement in delivery because the mail piece will be all sequenced to "hit the streets", and the carrier will be on his/ her route earlier in the day.

For mail service providers, such as printers who prepare flat mail, it could be a whole new way to operate. The keys to the success of FSS are twofold - reducing the time that it takes a carrier to assemble flat mail into DPS before "hitting the street", and also disassembling bundles of flats before feeding into the FSS. There is a Mailer's Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) Work Group on a mission to address these issues. The areas of focus are preparing "schemes" of mail for FSS sorting (different from carrier route sorting), and new bundle securing techniques. The "schemes" are not a big deal, but the bundle preparation may propose challenges. Straps and/ or shrink wrap? Experimentation with combinations of both are being tried for "automatic de-bundling" of flat mail. Stay tuned for updates on what the Work Group determines is the best solution for both the USPS and the industry. The testing continues with industry technical representatives, and the USPS equipment supplier.

Mr. Winn has been a member of the graphic arts industry for over thirty years. He began with R.R. Donnelley in Connecticut, where he served in various management positions in operations, and new technology integration. He has been a Plant Manager, responsible for all aspects of operations in numerous locations. He also was Director of Postal Operations for over 6 years, representing RR Donnelley and customers with the United States Postal Service on matters related to rates and regulations. During this time, Mr. Winn worked on Postal Reform Legislation, Intelligent Mail, Addressing, Flats Sequencing, and many other initiatives that influenced the mailing community.

In 2007, Mr. Winn established Greylock Associates, LLC. Greylock provides mailing support services and expertise to printers and mailers. He currently serves as the president of the company.

Mr. Winn holds a BS in Management Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Massachusetts. He also holds a MBA from Rennseller Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. He is a member of the R&E Nonpareil Society, and has received the IDEAlliance Donald A. Mumma award