Tuesday, November 15, 2011

7 Reasons the Jury Is Still Out on Flats Sequencing

It's still not clear whether the U.S. Postal Service's $1.4 billion investment in the Flats Sequencing System will pay off, according to the chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission says.

"The full batch of 100 FSS machines has been deployed, but it still remains to be seen whether FSS will produce economic benefits," Ruth Goldway told Multichannel Merchant recently in a wide-ranging interview about USPS's future. She indicated that postal officials had provided extensive information to the PRC about "its experiences and challenges in the deployment and operation of the FSS equipment."

"These extremely complex machines have experienced many problems. Mailers have expressed frustration with mail preparation changes necessary to accommodate FSS requirements, changes in Critical Entry Times, and service degradation," she told the publication.

Mailers had hoped FSS would reduce the Postal Service's costs of handling catalogs, magazines and other flat mail. But, more than ever, USPS claims it is losing money on the two main sources of mail sorted by FSS -- Periodicals and Standard flats.

The football-field-sized machines have helped USPS reduce costs by reducing the manual handling of mail by letter carriers, clerks, and other postal workers. But for at least seven reasons, it may be many months or even years before postal officials will know whether the investment will pay off:
  1. Declining Volume: The FSS system was designed for a relatively fixed volume of mail, but the machines are already serving larger-than-optimal territories because of decreases in the number of catalogs and publications being mailed. Further significant volume declines would hurt efficiency even more.
  2. Start-Up Woes: Reports from the field indicate recurring problems with shredded mail and machine breakdowns, but some of these problems may dissipate after USPS gets more experience with the complex machines.
  3. Wear and Tear: FSS is supposed to eliminate manual casing of flat mail, thereby enabling letter carriers to serve more addresses. But what will increases in "street time" do to maintenance costs of USPS's aging delivery fleet -- not to mention the healthcare and workers compensation costs for the carriers?
  4. Peaks and Valleys: One challenge is having machines that can sort all of the mail for their designated ZIP codes during peak periods but can also operate efficiently during slow months. Many of the machines have not been through a Christmas mailing season yet.
  5. Packaging: The rules governing how customers bundle and palletize flat mail were not written with FSS in mind. Implementing a different set of rules for FSS facilities could enable those operations to run more efficiently, but testing of alternative bundle and pallet standards has been limited.
  6. Consolidation: The Postal Service's ambitious plan to close more than half of its 400-plus mail-processing facilities would apparently result in a higher percentage of flat mail being served by FSS, as explained in USPS Consolidation Plan Means Moving or Closing Some FSS Machines. But it's not clear whether the plan will run into Congressional delays or other roadblocks.
  7. Shifting Equipment: When an FSS machine completes its shakedown, some other mail-processing equipment is freed up to be used in non-FSS facilities. But with the consolidation plans on the books, it may take years for the Postal Service to see the full benefit of moving such equipment around.

Related articles:


Anonymous said...

The FSS will never produce any cost savings. The post office doesn't have the backbone to force mailers to produce and package a product which will run optimally on the machine. That is a problem throughout the USPS, mailing standards that do not allow Operations to reach maximum efficiency due to piss poor design of the mailing product and how poorly it is often packaged for transport from entry to delivery by the carrier. The FSS is also ill conceived because carriers are not capable of carrying yet another bundle while doing their job efficiently. The lengthening of routes and ill conceived, rather foolish delivery methods being shoved down the throats of carriers by managers who either never carried or were incapable of carrying, is just getting worse with the introduction of FSS. Adding one more bundle to delivery, just is not going introduce any savings. Rather it will decrease efficiency and help increase the number of injuries to carriers. Not to mention the simple fact that the machine does not work as advertised. It is a boondoggle and has been from the beginning. But management has refused to accept that reality and instead shoved it down the pipeline, consequences be damned, because they didn't have the ability to admit failure nor the ability to use common sense. Most likely too fearful for their career to admit failure.

Anonymous said...

Where do I start? Well ,Postalnews.com recently did a bit on how the FSS (Federal shredder System), delayed Political mail 1 week beyond elections. Any flat that is thin screws up the machine, and takes weeks to deliver. Because Mgt. gets brownie point for pieces, they break up already sequenced flats for the count, and the machines reject 60-80% and they are sent back to ccarriers to resort. Either we have untrained people managing the machines, or they don't well.

Anonymous said...

The main problem that workers can't publicly talk about is that there are too many in management with far too much downtime.Most postmasters could "manage"two offices because of cell phones and the computer.The workers are used as scapcoats because of this.Trying to get blood from a stone will only get more compensation claims.

Northlander said...

With the use of rubber bands and string to package bulk mail overtime and redoing the mail for the mailers will keep production down. Not to mention the damaged mail.

Anonymous said...

At our facility, the FSS is always breaking down. (Probably someone in upper management can track the operational time/downtime.) As a result: 1)Some in-home delivery date targets are being missed - sometimes by as much as a week, 2) bundles are going out not being run on FSS so somebody has to distribute the bundles to the carriers and the carriers have more office time casing the flats.

Also, I hear the acceptance testing was done by an outside firm, run by ex-postal execs. Why could not the acceptance testing be done in-house. As an aside, how many retired postal execs are re-hired as outside consultants?

Anonymous said...

Fss hasnt reduced any labor costs in my office. Clerks still work the same amount of hours and sort ten times less mail. I lose hours b/c of FSS but they are still working the same amount of hours. What the ????
They were made to get us out of the office and eliminate clerk functions. It has done neither.

Anonymous said...

Now I know why all my postcards are getting shredded. The White Plains NY BME told me it was the paper. I tried long grain, short grain, Accent, Cougar, C1S, matte, dull. Shredded every time. Some seriously pissed off clients. I farm all postcards out to 4over now. Cheaper, the 14pt holds up better, and I clear a bit more profit.

Anonymous said...

A week weve had delayed flats a month.Just recently our office filed a 30 Day review letter because our FSS ratio since mailcount has been dropping....otherwords we are getting more working flats now than we did during mail count.The district i work in is probably the worst in the country,managers here are ONLY concerned about the numbers that concern there bonuses.I know you say bonuses are frozen,yea they have froze them before,but everyone knows they will pay off later.So its still biz as usual here inept management doing an inept job.

Anonymous said...

Where do I start? FSS does not work at all. I am a carrier. We do not have the proper trays in our trucks to carry a 4th bundle so that takes time. They have adjusted the routes in our office and did away with 2 routes and added to us all. Now we work more overtime more then ever and with the time change we deliver in the dark. They also changed our starting time so we come in later. It will take someone getting hurt or killed first in order for the PO to see how dangerous it is for us to deliver in the dark. I would say 4 out of 6 days we get no FSS.

Anonymous said...

I am a city carrier in one of the "test areas" for the new delivery system. Washington HQ mandated a 6 month test,some carriers are routers-come in at 5 or 5:30,case 3 or 4 routes,then deliver part of their old route. Some come in at 8:15,8:30 or 8:45,grab the keys and accountables and go . Street time are all about 7:51. The only problem is this is the Post Office,they made assumptions that everything works OK and it doesn't. They are holding back mail to make it appear to work. I'm skipping 3-4 houses at a time. Mail I get at my house shows up 3-4 days later in my office . OT is unbeliveable-12-13 hours a day. This is what happens when High School graduates are put in charge of a billion dollar corporation. Only these people could run a government protected monopoly into the ground .

ThatGuy said...

I am a postal employee (maintenance). And I maintain 4 FSS machines in NJ. What is the problem?

1. Management has no idea of how to run them. The complex software that is not used at all. Sort plans are put into the system one at a time by operations supervisors at the last minute.

2. The machines are run in the less efficient 2VM configuration - which would be faster than separate standard runs - as long as there are less than 27,000 pieced of mail total in the combined runs. They run 2VM with 35,000 even 48,000 pieces! This is despite specific documentation, charts, even a worksheet that shows doing this wastes valuable time!

2. Mail sits on the floor without being inducted into the FSS, because Operations wants to get high throughput numbers. None of them understand the end of run report, and the simple fact that if you don't put mail in the machine, it sits idle , wasting operational time. Headquarters must not read the reports or they would surely see this.

3. Casuals are used to staff the machine, with only cursory training. By the time they learn the correct way to prep mail at the SAMP stations or to feed and groom it properly, their time is up and the new casuals come around. The regulars are often VERY slow.

4. Mailhandlers at the FSS have no incentive to complete the runs on time. In fact, it is best to cause a lot of rejects and jams, because unlike the way the machine was designed, reject mail is not sent directly out to the field to be manually cased. Instead, it is run on the FSM 100s...and the mailhandlers get overtime to work those machines!

5. There are so many unnecessary levels of management in operations, and they literally make the FSS unable to perform as designed. The software scheduling is defeated and operations supervisors "wait on a phone call" from some big shot to tell them what mail to run next - someone who has never touched the FSS even once.

It appears to me that the FSS WILL produce savings... Unfortunately it is because declining mail volume along with mismanagement of the FSS will accelerate fiscal year loss, allowing USPS to faster consolidate and close sites - there is the "savings".

If run properly, an FSS can efficiently sort a 38,000 piece run to DPS using only ONE person to induct, feed and change CASTRs at the ITCs. How do I know? Because I HAVE DONE IT MYSELF! I had to, because Operations didn't trust me when I came in at 8pm and fixed the machine in 20 minutes after it had been down for 9 hours!

Don't get me started on maintenance staffing. We all had the same training! Of course our work experience and backgrounds are different. And it shows! But if you have seniority, you really don't have to do more than show up to work on time.

Welcome to USPS. And I work at the largest facility in the country! I pray someone is running a site correctly somewhere