The number of pages per letter is increasing, and with it the thickness of the envelope. This trend is also driven by the sender’s desire to combine advertising and personalized offers in a single mail piece.
Efficient processing of the resulting mixed mail items, i.e. thin and thick letters in one run, poses an enormous challenge for postal service providers. Although there is already proven technology for automated sorting of thick and heavy mail, these solutions are not designed for high speed processing of thin letters.
The challenge of thicker mail
Together with customers from the private postal market in Germany, BlueCrest started at a user forum in 2016 to define the essential criteria for a new technology, able to cope with the challenge of thicker mail. Any new solution needed to be able to process a wider range of items without reducing processing speed. At the same time, the process and sorting reliability should increase and pressure on volumes processed by existing mixed mail sorting systems relieved by at least 50%.
Customer-focused product development
‘‘In order to define the required processing spectrum more precisely, customers from the private postal market gave us the opportunity to analyze their collection data,’’ explains Dr. Udo Neisel, Director International Sortation Solutions at BlueCrest. ‘‘This analysis showed that items up to 10 mm thick make up about 96% of the total mail volume.’’
Since existing high-speed systems technology could only process items up to 7 mm thick many private postal service providers also used a slower mixed mail sorting system for thicker items. On average, mail pieces up to 10 mm thick account for 60% of the total production volume on this mixed mail system.
‘‘Based on the results of our evaluation, we have developed our new mixed mailboxes for the Vantage sorting system, the socalled ‘Mixed Mail Stackers’, specifically for automated processing of standard letters up to 10 mm thick,’’ says Dr. Neisel.
‘‘We are very proud of our partnership with leading private postal service providers,’’ added Thomas Rohs, Director Strategic Accounts at BlueCrest, who led the market launch in Germany together with Dr. Neisel. ‘‘We continued to inform our customers about the status of product development in our regular user forums and obtained their feedback. We were thus able to create an excellent solution in the new stackers that is perfectly tailored to the requirements of private postal service providers.’’
The Vantage sorting system developed by BlueCrest, in combination with the new Mixed Mail Stackers, can process mail up to 10 mm thick at a speed of up to 50,000 letters per hour. This means the system can finely sort up to 96% of letter mail. The drastic reduction of manual intervention and the associated sources of error significantly increase process reliability.
Ergonomics and operator comfort have also been given due consideration. Letters are neatly guided upright into the compartments, which makes them easier to remove. The system also features Positive Piece Level Tracking, whereby each piece of mail is monitored right up to the final tray. Furthermore, jobs can be processed and matched against a target file, allowing end-to-end processing.
The freed-up capacity of up to 60% on existing mixed mail sorting system opens additional production windows for postal service providers to process eCommerce mail as well. By combining a Vantage with mixed mailboxes and a VariSort Mixed Mail Sorter, they can now cover the entire spectrum of letter mail up to eCommerce mail.
‘‘Our confidence in the new Vantage Mixed Mail Stackers is reinforced by the positive, long and successful relationship with BlueCrest and their excellent service team.’’
- Norbert Amschler, Managing Director at Main-SortierService
First installation at Main-SortierService
In 2019, Main-SortierService (MSS) became the first user in Germany to install the Vantage Mixed Mail Stacker system. MSS, based in Würzburg, is a subsidiary of the Main-Post media group. Since 2007 the company’s core competence has been sorting and processing letters and parcels. With more than 115 million letters per year, the company is one of the most important private postal service providers in Germany.
The modern, highly automated MSS letter centre employs around 180 people. The company is constantly looking for innovation to expand its range of services and to satisfy its customers with individual concepts and services.
‘‘For a long time, we were looking for new solutions to replace our existing sorting systems and at the same time relieve our mixed mail systems. In addition to increasing operational throughput and reducing congestion times, the growing volume of thicker mail also played a role,’’ explains Norbert Amschler, Managing Director of MSS. ‘‘Our confidence in the new Vantage Mixed Mail Stackers is reinforced by the positive, long and successful relationship with BlueCrest and their excellent service team.’’
“In March 2020 contracts were signed and in June 2020 BlueCrest installed the system on schedule in Würzburg”, informs Christian Klügl, Production Director at MSS.
Flexibility as a competitive advantage
The investment gives MSS an important competitive advantage. The company is now not only able to process more mail in less time, but also to react flexibly to new business requirements and adapt quickly to changing customer needs.
In addition to processing mail for its own and external customers, MSS also acts as a mail consolidation service provider. Up to 500,000 shipments are processed daily in three shifts, and the Vantage mixed-mail stacker sorting system has quickly become one of the most important solutions for the company. In addition to significant cost savings, the new system also leads to a considerable improvement in process reliability. Latest reading technology ensures accuracy at high speed. Items are tracked on the machine throughout the sorting process and the system provides a detailed status of the mail piece. With MSS, this tracking also extends to returns, whereby the re-addressing process - previously a time-consuming manual process - is now controlled semi-automatically.
‘‘Achieving such a good throughput rate so early in the operation clearly shows that a lot of things went right in the project. It’s clear to us now: We did everything right by making this investment.’’
- Christian Klügl, Production Director at Main-SortierService
After the first 3 months in production with the Vantage Mixed Mail Stacker system, MSS has already increased net throughput by more than 15% and reduced congestion times by 42%. The number of defective shipments also declined during this period - despite the addition of thicker shipments.
Already by the 2nd day of live operation, the new system achieved operational peak values, which have rarely been realised in the mail center.