Innovations and new sorting possibilities
The market for mail sorting solutions is on the move due to the current economic crises and the liberalisation of the European postal market. On the one hand companies are looking for cost-effective and complete solutions for their inbound, in-house and outgoing mail; on the other hand private postal service providers enter the market. The Swiss company Prolistic and its partners NPI (USA) and Neopost (Germany) offer innovations to meet the customer needs in all these areas: The reading and sorting of non structured addresses of inbound mail and of handwritten in-house mail folders; and the unique concept of a postman’s tour sorting for postal service providers.
Two economic developments continue to influence the postal sorting market:
First, the pressure on all companies to reduce costs increases due to the current economic crises, which not only affected the financial sector by now. The cost pressure in turn affects the internal mail exchange centre amongst others. Companies can reduce their costs through increases in efficiency, rationalisation or discounts for partial performances (presorting) in the area of outgoing mail.
Second, more and more small and medium-sized businesses are beginning to provide local postal services due to the liberalisation of the European postal market. These companies tend to sort their mail manually, like in the early days, because of the significant initial cost of automated sorting equipment. The disadvantages are obvious: If the treated mail volume continues to grow, manual sorting becomes very inefficient and expensive. In addition, a lot of information about mail flows is lost. Furthermore, labour costs are highly dependent on political decisions in the area of postal minimum wages, as evidenced by the latest example in Germany.
The Swiss company Prolistic managed to find solutions to keep track of these main developments:
Complete solution for companies with large mail volumes
The first innovation is designed to reduce the costs of companies with large mail volumes. Prolistic offers a complete solution: The sorting machine not only pre-sorts outgoing mail (which enables the company to benefit from discounts from the national service provider e.g. in Germany or in France), but can also be used to sort inbound and in-house mail while keeping track of all mail flows.
The core innovation is the worldwide unique reading of differently structured addresses regarding inbound mail:
In a first step, the reading software matches all the information on an incoming letter with a pre-defined address pattern called “job” (see job-examples in fig. 1). The next step is to read the specified data according to the job-definition (e.g. “read the number on the right bottom side in row three, which is followed by the string “Prolistic”) and to sort correspondingly, as BNP Paribas does in Paris, to departments or names.
Another innovation is related to in-house mail: Prolistic manages to sort the classical, 100% handwritten in-house mail folders, for example the ones used at Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW) in Stuttgart (see fig. 2), with read rates of more than 91% to divisions and departments. The approach is similar to the one used to sort inbound mail: All information on the B4 mail folder is scanned. The software detects automatically the latest handwritten entry and reads its information. In coordination with the appropriate sorting plan and after a data based plausibility check, the mail folder is sorted into the appropriate case. Thanks to Vsort, the fastest flat sorting machine in the world, up to 18’000 large-sized mail folders can be sorted per hour (competition sorters perform at about 8’000 flats per hour).
The proof for the dominant position of Prolistic in the market of inbound and in-house mail flow is demonstrated by the recent order placed with Prolistic by Ergo Insurance Group, one of the top five insurance companies in Europe.
Solution for postal service providers
The second innovation is designed for the processes of (private) postal service providers. Prolistic offers the mail service providers the possibility to change from manual to automated processes even if they have limited resources or working space. Prolistic does this by offering a cost-effective solution (Atlas/Omega is the best-priced sorter on the market and there are options of leasing contracts) as well as equipment with minimal space requirements (Prolistic offers the Maxim, the most compact sorter on the market). The real innovation is again the way of how the sorting takes place:
A postal service provider with own delivery service generally faces the following optimization problem:
- Sorting out of the mail, that isn’t self delivered (pre-sorting)
- Optimal workload (not overwork) for all postmen / ideal number of postmen respectively.
- Ideal separation of the mail volumes between all postmen
- Definition of the ideal tour for all postmen and for every single postman as well.
- Sorting of the mail into the previously defined delivery routes.
Prolistic presents a very dynamic solution to this optimization problem to its clients:
The first sort run separates all letters, that won’t be self delivered. Thereby the client already profits from pre-sorting discounts from the national service provider e.g. in Germany (“BZA/BZE-Teilleistungs-Rabatte”) or in France (“Tem’post G2/G4”).
On all self delivered letters a fluorescent, 100% readable barcode will be imprinted. The non-read addresses are being video coded and re-read by the sorting machine. The result is a comprehensive list with all self delivered mail and its consignees. This list is the basis for all subsequent optimization.
The next step is solving the problem of the “travelling salesman” (see fig. 3): The ambition is to minimize the total distance between different target locations. The solution lies in using sequence optimization software of the latest generation.
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