ederal mail volumes have soared in recent years as a result of budget cuts that have forced many agencies to trim telephone and travel expenses. Helping government organizations get letters and packages out quickly and efficiently are a new generation of mail-processing systems that seem to do everything but deliver parcels.
Conventional postage meters and scales have been replaced by optical scanners, magnetic sensors and robotic devices that automatically weigh, meter and stack all sizes of mail at speeds of more than 100 pieces per minute. Some vendors even offer shipping-management systems, which produce reports on the quantity, weight and cost of mailings.
Pitney Bowes, which supplies the lion's share of mailing systems to federal agencies, markets the Paragon II model that can quickly weigh and meter mail of mixed sizes and weights. The company's Spectrum system can collate up to five sheets of paper at a time, fold them, insert them into envelopes and seal the flaps. And the Addressright product checks addresses against a Postal Service CD-ROM database of more than 110 million locations. The system also can print barcodes and ZIP+4 numbers onto envelopes.
Pitney Bowes' PostPerfect mailer features a postage-by-phone system that enables users to refill postage meters by dialing a toll-free phone number and having the charges put on credit cards or deducted from agency accounts. Another manufacturer of mailing systems, Ascom Hasler, offers electronic meters so customers do not have to endure long waits at the post office.
Ascom Hasler offers a system that can process a wide assortment of letter sizes and shapes without labor-intensive presorting. Magnetic sensors measure the thickness, width and length of parcels to ensure the correct postage-thus saving agencies the expense of resending mail that has been returned because of improper postage.