By Lisa Guerriero
Companies producing high-volume transactional output (HVTO) need to be effective in a world where digital communications are increasingly popular and postal regulations are modernizing.
In the face of these challenges, equipment and systems are required to help accomplish daily tasks—as are manufacturers that act as partners as companies strive for speed, quality, and ultimately cost savings.
Variety for Variability
Despite the popularity of online transactions, “snail mail” is still an integral part of how financial business is conducted. For example, households received nearly 14.1 billion in bills and statements in FY 2012, according to the U.S. Postal Service’s (USPS) most recent Household Diary Study in 2012. In addition, 40 percent of all household bill payments were paid by mail in 2012, according to the study.
Bills, statements, payment due reminders, and 401k summaries are just a few examples of the mailings produced by HVTO organizations, as well as non-financial, legal items such as court documents and healthcare paperwork. Because of the diverse tasks, equipment must keep up.
“Flexibility and the ability to meet rapidly changing customer needs is a challenge that the industry has faced in recent years; being able to change processes, methodology, and styling is a key element in these businesses. This reflects in their specific needs for flexible equipment and services,” says Martin French, marketing director, Gunther International/inc.jet.
Susan Corwin, marketing manager, Rollem International, suggests that mail finishing equipment must not only operate at high speeds, but also be dependable and maintain uptimes of more than 99 percent. Since most materials are time sensitive there is no room for downtime. “In addition, equipment changeovers should be easy to accommodate add-on features such as card tip-ons—popular for rewards programs, remoist glue lines, BRM postcards, and various perforations.”
Some manufacturers answer this need by taking a soup to nuts approach. For example, Pitney Bowes produces both software and hardware to enable printing, inserting, sorting, and variable envelope messaging.
MBO America provides a number of solutions for high-speed, high-volume printers and data centers. Complete digital web finishing solutions are available for 20- and 30-inch webs, as well as traditional cutsheet operations. “MBO’s product mix is highly compatible, as customers can use the same models, regardless of whether it is for inline or offline finishing,” says Lance Martin, director, sales, MBO America. “This is important because customers gain the ability to add components to pre-existing lines as needed, rather than incurring substation costs up front to create an entirely new custom solution each time a new job application comes their way.”
Neopost USA also provides a range of solutions for mail and fulfillment, such as metering systems, digital printers, folding/inserting equipment, and direct addressing systems.
Similarly, Gunther International produces a variety of mailing equipment and software, while its affiliate, inc.jet, handles the printing end of operations.
Some manufacturers focus on either the printing or finishing end of the mailing process. VITS International’s systems, for example, centers on folding, gluing, die cutting, perforating, variable cutting, variable sheeting, collating, inserting, and stacking.
Domino exclusively focuses on the printing end—specifically versatile inkjet options.
Lasermax concentrates on feeding and finishing equipment that accompanies high-speed digital printers, such as unwinders, rewinders, cutters and stackers, fan folders, perforators, and quality monitoring systems.
Rollem International offers finishing products to aid in the finishing of mailers, including the Mailstream, Jetstream, or Delta.
Sensible Technologies specializes in production mail envelope inserters for high-volume output.
Videojet’s specialty is variable data management, and the printing of it, with some material handling solutions.
The Need for Speed
Whether a mail producer uses equipment and software from an end-to-end vendor or employs multiple services and products, demand exists for fast and efficient systems.
“The overriding trend we see is a desire to go faster, whether that is inline with the press, near line, inserting, or creating ready-to-mail signatures or direct mail,” explains Nick Gerovac, director of sales and marketing, VITS International. “So what we have done is taken our knowledge of high-speed and variable finishing and applied it to the digital marketplace.”
MBO’s Martin says automation is key today. For example, with automated technology, setup times can be dramatically reduced. MBO offers Automation packages that can be fully configured via JDF.
Although print providers and data houses compete with digital information delivery, they share a common methodology—technology is a friend. To survive and thrive, HVTO professionals view the changing equipment as an asset.
“We think of electronic and physical communications as complementary, not competing. From data management and engagement software, to location intelligence technologies, to shipping and mailing solutions, Pitney Bowes helps its clients power billions of transactions, both physical and digital, in an increasingly connected and borderless world,” says Bruce Gresham, VP of business planning and strategy, Pitney Bowes Presort Services.
For hardware, mail professionals seek a glitch-free process, from roll feeder to printer to inserter. On the software end, ensuring security is critical. Both elements have to be user friendly and operate together smoothly.
“Given the migration of customer communications into a digital space, Neopost USA created a hybrid solution that simultaneously manages customer preferences for traditional mail communications as well as digital communications. Delivery Preference Manager is a cloud-based system that integrates with output management software to achieve a multi-channel delivery solution,” says Stephanie Benedetto, director marketing communications, Neopost USA.
In most cases, users look for a strong support system from the companies that provide these tools.
“This time-sensitive market segment relies on Videojet’s comprehensive support packages to help meet deadline commitments,” explains Jim Kerper, systems solutions manager, Videojet. “With faster production turnaround times, customers often look for the fastest addressing equipment and data solutions. They also need easy-to-use interfaces to quickly set up and run jobs.”
Delivering Quality and Color
Inkjet is increasingly popular within the print end of mailing environments, promising speed without sacrificing the quality of text and images. Senders want important documents to break through the “noise” of non-transactional mail. Crisp graphics and intense color help accomplish that.
Domino introduced new approaches that they believe ensure the speed, color, and clarity that buyers want. The company has long produced inkjet printers, but it is especially excited about its new K600i, partly because it utilizes LED, UV-cured ink. This allows for a quicker process than traditional mercury arc lamp methods, which is designed to help meet the need for speed.
The system has a single wide belt that makes it suitable for variable jobs—from envelopes to postcards, for example—which is another priority for HVTO. It produces images at 600×600 dpi.
Often, innovations develop symbiotically in the printing and non-printing spheres of mailing technology.
“High-volume color inkjet printers create opportunities for HVTO producers to bump up the quality of their customer-facing documents, both through the addition of variable color to these documents, and through the use of supplementary products such as dynamic perforators, generating perforations only on the appropriate pages within a transactional document,” says Scott Peterson, marketing communications manager, Lasermax Roll Systems.
Peterson adds that automatic input roll splicing, like the Zero Speed Splicer u40 that Lasermax is introducing at Graph Expo 2014, is another development that goes hand-in-hand with inkjet. This technology offers users “the capability to avoid printer downtime for input roll changes, thus keeping their high-speed digital color inkjet printers up and running and as productive as possible.”
Nowadays, nearly all data management and monitoring software is designed to support barcode technology.
“When it comes to variable finishing you have to be able to accommodate the variableness of every job. We utilize a combination of cameras and proprietary software to read each barcode and collate or sort the product after it has been cut and delivered. This allows the printer to have a job that is presorted and ready to go to the post office, saving time and more importantly, money,” notes Gerovac.
The USPS began gradually introducing the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) in 2006, but it became a requirement in January 2013—at least for anyone who wants to benefit from the USPS’ reduced automation postage prices.
The IMB is more data-rich and efficient than the USPS’ previous barcode system, so the postal service has incentivized the program by offering postal discounts for customers who use the IMB correctly and in larger volumes.
“It has never been more important to navigate complex postal regulations while securing the lowest rates,” notes Neopost USA’s Benedetto.
Pitney Bowes was one of the first to delve into IMB, and completed its first Full Service mailing—the second, more complicated tier of the program—in 2009, before the first tier was even required for automated postage prices. “We handle over 40M pieces of mail per day and help our clients become Full Service compliant without making capital investments,” says Gresham.
But as the USPS is working to preserve its own industry, it’s constantly introducing new promotions that may interest mailers. That means manufacturers need to help HVTO professionals keep up with these offers.
For example, the USPS introduced Color Print in First-Class Mail Transactions Promotion, which only lasts from August to December of this year. Under this promotion, businesses that create bills and statements that take advantage of color print technology will get an upfront two percent postage discount on eligible mail pieces.
Print mail may be threatened by digital, but it’s still a critical element of business.
“Electronic delivery certainly meets a need for reduced costs and increased efficiencies, however in some instances it is not a suitable delivery mechanism—for us, we find that we appeal to customers that have high-integrity, highly-personalized, and high-value documents to send,” explains Gunther’s French. “Financial institutions are key amongst these types of companies,” he adds.
When it’s designed and produced well, mail is an asset for reaching customers.
“The creativeness and quality of direct mail has greatly improved in recent years,” comments Rollem’s Corwin. She notes that marketers look for products that stand out and deliver value; the ability to print and finish a tangible, four-color version of a digital communication is a successful formula for many.
“Mailing adds a tangible and personal touch. As consumers become desensitized to emails and texts, they tend to take notice of well-designed and personalized mail pieces,” says Kerper.
That’s where equipment manufacturers and mail service providers come in. They constantly try to evolve, to help customers raise the quality of their mailings as well as the speed with which they’re produced.
“The reoccurring challenges our HVTO customers face are job change duration, customer and regulatory compliance, multi-channel presentment, and convenience. Neopost offers solutions around these recurring challenges, including automation on our systems that makes changing jobs very quick and easy,” explains Benedetto.
Even ultra-specialized parts of the market have seen changes.
“Sensible is investing in development of the ‘Optimum’ speed inserter, by which a data center can obtain the highest efficiency, the lowest cost per piece, with the software and tracking for complete audit compliance,” says Earle Painter, president, Sensible Technologies.
It comes down to sophisticated, innovative solutions—the way a roll is fed into a printer, the camera that logs and tracks a barcode, and the system that manages each printing job.
“Many clients are taking a hybrid approach to the presentment of their physical mail,” says Pitney Bowes’ Gresham. “They utilize manifest software or sorting equipment on a portion of their mail to obtain the best possible postage discounts, then pass the residual volumes—any mail that qualifies at three-digit or above—to our Presort Services group for additional discounts. This allows clients to capture the lowest possible postage rates,” he adds.
The Future of Mail
While the future of mail as we know it is unclear, it still plays a major role in the way in which companies conduct business. High-speed printing and finishing equipment as well as sophisticated software and barcode technologies support this evolving communications channel. dps
Oct2014, DPS Magazine