Automation Reigns at Eagan USPS Facility
By Aileen Hough
MMPA Circulation and Audience Development
Most of you have probably noticed an upside down address on the cover of your favorite magazine or the address block on the back of a catalog being on the top back cover instead of the bottom and thought it looked rather odd.
Those of us involved in the distribution and delivery of your magazines have been working on this and the management of subscriber databases to meet new USPS requirements for, literally, years. It’s all part of the post office’s grand plan to make the delivery of magazines as automated as letter delivery has been and an attempt to help the USPS cut the huge losses they have been dealing with the last few years.
At a time when millions of dollars had been spent to automate letter-size mail, your mailman was still spending hours a day putting magazines and catalogs into totes of sorted letter mail to deliver to you. This process has been all but eliminated with the development of FSS (Flat System Sequencing) and IMB (Intelligent Mail Barcodes).
A group of MMPA Circulation and Audience Development members toured the new Eagan PDC-Process and Distribution Center. It is the new state-of-the-art facility covering over 610,000 square feet with over 900 employees processing millions of pieces of mail a day. Eagan is one of only eight facilities across the country to have an FSS machine installed and running. It the size of four football fields and took months to install, test and fine tune.
From the 120-plus dock doors where trucks load and unload, the mail moves through a maze of conveyors at the rate of 30,000 pieces of mail per hour to be faced, sorted, scanned, cancelled, and sprayed with an identification tag. If the equipment cannot read a hand-written address, a picture of the envelope goes electronically to a facility in Nebraska, where an operator will read, key the information, and send it back to a machine in Eagan to inkjet the bar code. An identification tag is put on the mail piece giving all the other machines in the facility details about the destination of that specific piece of mail, as well as when it is supposed to get there. While the old Kellogg facility had employees on six different floors of the building moving mail in push carts through hallways and elevators, this facility is on one level. While watching and listening to the guide explain the process, it was not unusual to see a USPS employee peddle by on their bike to another spot in the facility.
Trays and, eventually, pallets of sorted and scanned mail are all tagged, barcoded, and wrapped, so that machines can sort these shipments and deliver them to a specific spot, for delivery to the airport or to the dock door. Thousands of trucks leaving Eagan’s docks to bring mail to the next spot in its journey. The USPS staff will explain it in very simple terms: “the mail is coming in and the mail is going out.” But, it truly gives you a new level of appreciation to see this facility in action and realize just how much goes into the delivery of your magazines.