Flats Sequencing System machines continue to run much slower than their target speeds and aren't getting any faster. But they also aren't breaking down as often as they were last year, according to a Postal Service presentation.
From October through mid-February, the average number of pieces sequenced hourly ranged from 7,000 to 10,000 per week, well below the target of nearly 12,000. Throughputs so far this year have stabilized in the range of 8,000 to 9,000 per hour with a slightly downward trend, according to a presentation Megan J. Brennan, USPS's Chief Operation Officer, made at a recent Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) meeting.
But the "Mean Time Between Failure", a measure of how frequently the machines break down that was at about 10 for most of August and September, has been consistently above 13 recently. And the time it took to get a machine back online dropped by about one-third in a six-month period.
Postal officials reported that rapid deployment of the huge machines -- 89 during Fiscal Year 2011 -- led to service challenges and a "learning curve for technicians." USPS has updated FSS-related training, instituted more diagnostic maintenance, and revised various procedures to improve efficiency and reduce extensive delays in the delivery of flat mail, such as catalogs and magazines.
It's also working on ways to reduce the frequent damage to mail pieces that has earned FSS the nickname "Flats Shredding System".
Increasing the machines' reliability may be more important than increasing their speeds. FSS' erratic performance wreaked havoc during the busy fall mailing season, especially for letter carriers whose routes were "adjusted" (expanded) under the assumption that FSS would enable them to spend more time delivering the mail.
Many reported that they still had to sequence more than half of the flat mail they deliver, sometimes on their laps during "street time." Among the comments:
- "Since the start of the fall junk mailing season, we've had many days where were get raw flats we have to manually case because the one machine they have at the plant can't keep up with the volume. Needless to say, along with the fact management overestimated FSS's savings by making our routes mega-routes, O.T. is pretty much a daily occurence."
- "Flats come in late and destroyed. Some days we have zero FSS, other days we have 10 trays. Three days last week it showed up late and the carriers had to come back to the office to retrieve it. This week the FSS came in postcons because management didn't anticipate the amount of flats we are receiving and didn't purchase enough FSS carts.
- "The day before Thanksgiving I had 3 trays of FSS. The day after Thanksgiving I had 21 trays plus 5 tubs I was supposed to throw in the morning. I've seen a lot of disasters in my 26 years here but this system is a complete failure.