Dec. 29 2006 10:46 AM

A new generation of table-top inserters now features capabilities that just a few years ago were available only on sophisticated console inserting systems. Why the shift? Because the relentless demand for both better productivity and higher quality mail has reached the low- and mid-range mailing market. Vendors are responding with newly designed table-top inserters that can boost both mail center efficiency and mailpiece integrity.


However, selecting the right equipment is more challenging, too. No longer is it just a matter of selecting a table-top inserter because of its speed or the fact that it may be an upgrade to an existing model.


Now, mail center managers and their vendor partners should conduct a detailed fact finding and needs analysis covering both existing and likely future applications to make sure the new capabilities are implemented to an organization's best advantage.


Anticipated Volumes

The first step is to consider the anticipated volume requirements. This volume capability is often expressed as the net throughput of perfect mailpieces per month. Typically, low- to mid-range inserters produce about 20,000 to 80,000 finished mailpieces per month.


However, volumes are rarely static. So, it is important to consider the volume trends and characteristics. Are the volumes increasing, and if so, at what rate of growth? Are all applications growing at the same pace? Are volumes concentrated in just a few peak processing periods? Are multiple or dispersed processing capabilities likely to be consolidated for improved efficiency, or are they likely to remain separate? Is the organization in a growth mode? Are new products and services about to be introduced to the company that will require marketing support via the monthly bill or account statement?


Specialized Applications

Will your new inserter be required to process direct mail solicitations along with the more routine or regular transaction based mailings? Direct mail and transaction-based mail were once entirely different processes, serving entirely different needs. But no more. Today, both transactional and direct marketing mail are relationship-building tools which innovative companies are using in an overall customer relationship strategy to maximize impact and reduce cost.


Breadth of Applications

Complexity is the key issue here. How many pages per application will be processed, and how many insert messages will be enclosed? Some industries, such as telecommunications, are increasingly relying on multiple-page applications. Others, such as credit card processing, aggressively employ the use of enclosures to promote related financial products and services. Still others, such as banks and credit unions, are shifting to an imaged check format for Demand Deposit Account (DDA) applications and may require a capability for both multiple-page and multiple-insert processing. ·


Work Environment

Will the inserter have a single, dedicated operator, or will several people operate the same piece of equipment? Simplicity of operation is always important. But it becomes critical when multiple workers are involved, since overall productivity can suffer if workers must relearn extensive or cumbersome procedures each time they process a job. And the problem can become acute if the multiple workers are processing just a few jobs each month.


Also, are the workers responsible for operating other pieces of equipment? Is the equipment arranged logically to maximize productivity? Does the noise emitted from nearby equipment combine with others to create an unsafe environment? Is the inserting equipment compact and adjustable enough so it can accommodate a wide variety of operators and office environments?


Seven Key Capabilities

Armed with the answers to these key questions, mail center managers can now compare the various features and benefits of the new generation of inserters with their specific needs. And while every mailing facility is different, the following seven criteria have universal appeal and should be among the key features considered and evaluated.


User Interface At the top of the list of desired features is ease of use. This is particularly true if multiple workers are expected to operate on the one inserter. Or if a single, dedicated operator also has the responsibility of operating other office equipment.


All job setup procedures should be fast and easy and the need for operator training should be minimal. In fact, the best indicator of ease of use is the User Interface (UI). The UI should allow easy programming of all jobs, and it should enable the operator to access and modify if necessary jobs that were previously programmed. The UI should also feature simple prompts to guide the operator to a fast, accurate set-up, and it should enable the operator to automatically save adjustments.


Ergonomics The inserter should be compact, allowing it to fit into tight spaces if necessary and minimizing the steps and physical effort required to operate the equipment safely and efficiently. It should also be flexible and capable of adapting to the unique physical needs of the operator. For example, an inserter with a height-adjustable table will assure that any worker can select the optimum work height and operate the equipment for extended periods of time with a minimum of fatigue and chance of injury.


Productivity Any inserter should operate reliably, and with a minimum of downtime due to jams or component failures. But there are other productivity boosters as well. A high-capacity sheet feeder will minimize manual effort and the need for frequent replenishing of paper supplies. Intelligent feeders can detect when bins become empty and automatically activate the feeding of inserts from subsequent bins in a cascading fashion.


A pre-fold/accumulation capability can help boost productivity for multiple-page applications and give those mailings a professional appearance as well. Such a capability enables the inserter to accumulate several sheets, and then fold and stuff the folded sheets into the envelope, rather than stacking these sheets one on top of the other prior to insertion.


A capability for on-the-fly feeding is also worthwhile because it enables operators to replenish materials without stopping the equipment, which helps keep overall productivity high. Managers should also look for key innovations such as a vertical stacker, which enables operators to accumulate a full tray of mail in actual postal ZIP Code sequence and then easily and quickly removes the mail from the system without interrupting production.


Intelligence A mailpiece that is misassembled is a costly mistake. A capability to assure the integrity of the mailpiece, such as Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) scanning, can prevent such errors.


Software Postal software plays a vital role in assuring that customer messages are delivered promptly, accurately and at the lowest possible cost. At a minimum, mail center managers should utilize software for address cleansing, updating and presorting to achieve the maximum possible postal discounts. Ideally, the inserter you select will also be used in conjunction with even more advanced software capabilities, such as document management software, which will yield even greater cost-efficiencies and better productivity.


Closed Loop Enterprise-wide efficiency and effectiveness will be the key concept in the future. The inserter should be capable of linking into a Total Solution that encompasses message creation, production, distribution, receipt and customer data updating.


Service Support Even the best processing equipment needs occasional service and technical support to maintain peak production. A service support network should be highly experienced, geographically dispersed and redundant or overlapping. Response times should be minimal and documented by examples from actual experience.


Every print/mail finishing center is unique. But mail center managers who evaluate table-top equipment requirements against the criteria listed above are likely to meet their needs cost-effectively, while retaining sufficient flexibility to respond to future requirements.


Diane Vulcano, mail creation product manager for Pitney Bowes, has more than 15 years of product marketing experience in the manufacturing, software and database marketing industries. For more information about inserter improvements, visit