Though the technology has been available for a long time, some companies handling critical business documents like bills, statements, notices, or insurance claims are inserting documents into envelopes without the benefit of file-based processing.
File-based processing is a means of telling the inserting system details about the pages to be ingested, the inserts to use, and the packages to construct. The document pages must include a barcode that corresponds to the mailing file data. Today, that's usually a 2D barcode.
If you don’t use file-based inserting, then your barcodes probably control the inserter operation on their own. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. It’s certainly better than running mail without controls. But a barcode-only approach won’t provide the level of integrity and visibility demanded by most mail customers today.
File-based processing was once available only for large “big iron” types of inserting platforms. Now this functionality is built into mail inserting equipment designed for smaller volumes, making the technology available to mailers of any size.
What’s the Difference?
Mail machine barcodes come in three varieties and control the inserting equipment in different ways.
1. OMR – Optical mark recognition, or OMR, is a set of horizontal or vertical lines that was the original barcoding method for automated mail inserting. With OMR you can group pages to be inserted into a single envelope, control which pre-printed inserts are fed, divert filled envelopes away from the main mail stream, edge-mark envelopes, and more.
Most shops have replaced OMR with more advanced systems, but some legacy jobs may still use this method.
The big drawback to OMR is its reliance solely on page marks to control mail piece integrity. Because no outside reference exists, an inserting machine may not detect a missing page from a customer’s account statement. Also, because OMR does not identify the account number, you can accidentally insert page three from one customer’s document into a different customer’s envelope, should the pages get out of sequence.
2. Standalone Linear or 2D Barcodes – Barcodes can contain more information than OMR hash marks, so they offer more control over the inserting process. A barcode can include a sequence number, for example, that allows the inserter to stop if a page is missing. However, this method still has limited functionality for piece identification.
Standalone barcodes may not track or record the status of individual mail pieces, but some shops print a 2D barcode containing a sequence number that shows through the envelope window. This allows you to verify the completion of each mail piece in the job and catch instances of double-stuffed envelopes.
3. File-Based Processing – As documents are composed for print, software creates a corresponding file to be downloaded to the inserting system when the job is run. This file tells the inserter what to expect as it feeds documents into the system, how to handle them, and allows for inserting platforms to record the disposition of each page and mail piece.
As the job runs on the inserter, software typically records the processing or rejection of each individual mail piece. Individual piece-tracking allows mail service providers to respond to audits or customer inquiries.
Because the inserter control file contains information about individual mail pieces, this method allows for last-minute pulls. A customer can request that a document be removed from the mailing, even after the material has been printed. The barcode on the mail piece references the information in the inserter control file, which can be altered if necessary.
Variable data envelope printing is made possible with file-based processing. You can use closed-face envelopes and print address blocks or variable outside envelope messages based on information in the inserter control file. File-based processing also enables touch-and-toss policies, where a jam requiring operator intervention results in mail piece rejection and automatic reprinting.
Industry regulations or customer privacy policies may require mail service providers and inplant mail centers to account for the handling and disposition of every piece of mail they process. Customers expect you to respond to their inquiries with documented evidence. You can’t do this adequately without some form of file-based processing for your inserting operation.
Many years ago, I predicted that more stringent controls for mail processing would be a requirement for mail service providers (see “OMR – A Blast from the Past"). Those days are definitely here. I can’t imagine a competitive situation where a mailing company without the sophisticated process-tracking and controls offered by file-based processing would win the business. Like many other technological advances made in this industry over the years, file-based processing has become a minimum requirement.
Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants creates content for the document industry and helps document operations build and implement strategies for future growth and competitiveness. Learn more about his services at www.printmailconsultants.com and www.pmccontentservices.com. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, or send him a connection request on LinkedIn.