In 2006, direct mail companies, mailing fulfillment houses and commercial printers were introduced to the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB), the next generation of U.S. Po
The amount of information contained within the IMB can facilitate tracking an individual piece throughout the mail
The IMB will be required for po
Gary Rothenberger, Senior Vice President of Accommodata, Inc., a direct mail production company based in
Creating, Printing, Validating
The USPS has specifications for printing the IMB. If incorrectly printed, mailing companies will face penalties, namely a loss of mailing automation discounts, which help many companies remain profitable.
Physically, the IMB is a
- Barcode identifier: a number assigned by the USPS to identify a mailpiece's type of tracking service.
- Special services: a number assigned by the USPS to signify the services reque
sted on a mailpiece (e.g., ACS or the USPS Confirm automation program). Other new service types are expected to be added in the future.
stomer number: a unique identification number assigned by the USPS to the mailing company.
- Sequence number: a nine-digit unique identification number assigned by the mailing company for tracking mailpieces.
- Delivery point ZIP Code.
Prior to the IMB, printers had to use both the PLANET Code (for tracking) and POSTNET (for routing) to achieve the capabilities the IMB provides in one code. Additionally, the IMB can incorporate the ACS service, thereby freeing up additional design space on the mailpiece because the address area doesn't have to be as large.
When incorporating the IMB into a production environment, the mo
Creating the code A mailing company's software mu
- The USPS offers a conversion utility free of charge. Visit http://ribbs.usps.gov/onecodesolution/index.cfm.
- Mailing software companies are offering cu
stomers the ability to create the IMB. This capability is available for purchase or may be provided for free, generally as part of a subscription agreement.
Printing the code A mailing company's variable data printers mu
- The USPS offers the IMB font free of charge. Visit http://ribbs.usps.gov/onecodesolution/index.cfm.
- Some variable data marking/coding suppliers offer the font.
- The font can be purchased from Internet-based suppliers.
- Using USPS specifications, a mailing company can also use the printer's font editor to draw the IMB font.
Validating the code Validation typically consi
Depending on the line speed, a vision sy
Taking into account creation, printing and validation of the code, there are several que
- What size printband do our current variable data printers possess? Printers with a one-inch printband may be able to print the IMB, but using them could require sacrificing one line on a mailpiece previously dedicated to addressing, which may not be desirable to cu
- Can our printers deliver a high enough print quality to meet IMB specifications? Sub
standard print quality may cause codes to fail the validation process, thus possibly delaying delivery and interfering with automation discounts.
- Can our printers print the IMB at current line speeds? Verifying there will be no slowdown in printing, the IMB will confirm the printer's ability to achieve the multiple benefits of using the code without sacrificing production throughput.
- Can our software solution calculate and create the IMB? Verifying the current software solution can print the IMB is the fir
st step; if it can't, acquiring the correct software or the USPS conversion utility is the second.
- How can vision sy
stems be used to validate the IMB and improve overall quality control? In some cases, two vision sy stems are used one to verify that codes have been printed to USPS specifications and another to verify that the information has been coded correctly.
- Can being proactive win over cu
stomers? In certain cases, a printer's cu stomer may value a proactive approach to incorporating the IMB, particularly if the cu stomer sees the benefits of having additional tracking data and less USPS-specific data printed on the piece.
Aside from USPS automation discounts, the sheer amount of information the IMB can provide may be motivating enough for mailing companies to consider early implementation. "Every time a mailpiece with an Intelligent Mail Barcode is processed on an automated piece of equipment, the result of the scan is captured and uploaded to a USPS database," Rothenberger says. "As a Confirm subscriber, we can download tracking data from the secure area of a USPS FTP web site, which we do several times daily."
There are multiple Confirm subscriber tiers available, based on the amount of scans a company wishes to purchase. For example, the Silver base-level program provides 15 million scans for $2,000 for a three-month period.
But Rothenberger also points out that printing the Intelligent Mail Barcode is only the fir
Jason Lund is a Graphics Product Manager for Videojet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale,