Live From the National Catalog Forum: FSS Could Help Cut Catalog Costs

Nashville — The implementation of the flats sequencing system (FSS) could play a major role in reducing costs for catalogers in the future.

Rosa Fulton, executive director of FSS for the U.S. Postal Service, told attendees of the 2010 National Catalog Forum, presented here April 13-15 by the American Catalog Mailers Association, that it isn’t just a vision anymore.

“It’s here, we’re pressing the lever and pushing start,” she said.

The USPS has long touted the implementation of FSS machines — a $1.5 billion investment designed to improve efficiencies and control costs by automating the sorting of flat mail. The Postal Service believes FSS will eventually enable it to sort flat mail in carrier walk sequence at speeds of 16,500 pieces per hour.

This means that carriers will no longer have to case flat mail; large envelopes, magazines and catalogs will arrive in walk sequence order in the same way that letter mail arrives to carriers today.

FSS is supposed to revolutionize the labor-intensive process of sorting and delivering flat mail, cutting millions of work hours — and hundreds of millions of dollars — for the USPS.

So what’s taking so long? One of the difficulties with full implementation of FSS, Fulton said, is the machines were designed for high volume. Flats volume has declined 26% from 2005 to 2009, and could drop more in the future. As a result, the implementation process has been slow.

Fulton said 29 FSS machines have been installed; FSS live operations begin in south Florida on May 3, with 63 machines installed by the end of the summer. The 100 FSS machines in Phase 1 — strategically located across the country — account for about 33% of the total flats volume, Fulton said.

She added that some FSS machines have been redirected so they are in higher-volume locations.

The USPS wants fewer bundles “and we want less bundle distribution,” Fulton said. If the FSS master plan works, the future of flats processing will only include automated bundle preparation, flats sequencing and delivery. This process, she said, eliminates nonvalue added work/processes, which will lead to cost savings.

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