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To be sure, to be sure

May 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Suppose a customer wants to do a matched mailing. Your challenge: Print a letter and ticket—both personalized--and then match them together in a non-window envelope without a single mix-up. If even a single piece gets out of sequence, the whole mailing is compromised.

Verfication is the real challenge
The steps preceding a perfect-match mailing are a cinch. You print, fold, insert and inkjet every day. It’s the verification part that gets tricky. How do you ensure everything stays in order? And what happens when it doesn’t?

Whether you are inserting pieces manually or mechanically, accountability between departments is essential. A checklist or verification sheet should be attached to every work order. Most shops that do perfect match mailings print a presort sequence number on every document, so any one can be put back in order easily, if necessary. It’s also a good idea to print the original record number on the piece.

Even though you trust your variable-data software to keep things in sequence during printing, strange things do happen in Windows. Should the data get jumbled, having the record number as it appeared in the original database prior to printing will help you determine what went wrong.

While the job is being printed, you’ll probably want to check the integrity of the data every 500 pieces or so. Do the name and address match up to the presort sequence number in the database? Keeping the stacks of printed material in a special “hands-off” zone away from swinging doors, fast walkers and powerful fans will help prevent accidents.

Before the job leaves the print production area for the bindery, operators should verify that everything is in order and then initial the checklist.

Folders: Fraught with potential perils
Beware: Speedy folders are more prone to jamming than slower copiers or laser printers. Sometimes the catching and gathering process can nest two pieces together. Having two operators, one for feeding and one for gathering, is the best way to keep things together. Again, operators should initial the checklist before releasing the job.

Matching actually happens at the inserter and this is where you earn your money. If you are using a non-intelligent inserter, disable the sealing mechanism and check the contents every 25 pieces. If they don’t match up to each other, you’ll be glad you held off on sealing those envelopes! Most inserters allow you to run pre-stuffed envelopes back through the machine for a seal-only application. An automatic-feeding postage meter also can be used for sealing.

This manual system will suffice for the occasional match mailing. Intelligent equipment, however, is essential for producing higher quantities at faster rates. Solutions include barcode readers and optical character recognition (OCR) cameras attached to an inserter.

Bar code readers will suffice for some jobs. An industrial standard bar code can be used on the documents and corresponding envelopes. These bar codes contain piece-specific information such as sequence and job number, and tie into software that can stop the machine if the two pieces don’t match up. Bar code solution can be configured for a file lookup—the readers go out to the network to verify that record and sequence information in the database.

Bar codes are fine for applications where appearance isn’t a key consideration. Few people care if a personalized invoice has a barcode on it, but a custom invitation or direct mailer are different matters entirely.

Smile for the camera
An OCR camera opens up more possibilities. Certain cameras can read bar codes printed with “invisible” ink by using a special light to illuminate the bar code. This eliminates intrusive bar codes, but some applications may require extensive front-end work to print the invisible codes, so do your homework.

Rather than reading a bar code, an OCR camera looks at the actual address for verification. It takes a picture, so to speak, and checks the database. But this still doesn’t keep things in sequence; it just alerts you if things get out of order. Moreover, getting started might require many meetings between you, the manufacturer, and your IT department.

Another matching method
In many situations, printing the corresponding address after it has been inserted is the best way to deal with a match mailing. How is this done? Well, it starts with a camera and an accumulator, and ends with a turnover and an inkjet printer.

Because most inserters feed pre-folded documents with the address upside down in the hopper, the camera can’t read the address. Using a non-intelligent accumulator/folder, the camera can see the address before the piece is folded. It then takes a picture of the address, verifies it against the presorted database, and sends it to your inkjet printer at the end of the line. Of course, most inserters also feed the envelopes upside-down, too, so a turnover on the machine is necessary for inline inkjetting.

This system works well because it’s simple and can tie in to almost any production inserter. If your inkjet printer is a fixed-head system on some type of transport base, it most likely can be configured to run in a right-to-left direction to match the direction of the exit end of most inserters. This way, even if the documents get out of order before being stacked into the accumulator, the address on the envelope still will match the address on the document. Obviously, the presort sequence is compromised, but on non-carrier route mailings this is a minor issue: The pieces just need to be in the right tray, not necessarily in perfect order. Moreover, the outer envelope will have the package and tray number, should it need to be put into a different tray.

If you already have an inline inkjet printer, a floor model inserter and an accumulator, matching can be done with a simple camera along with printer-interface software like Flexmail, which can be modified with a preprogrammed scripting module.

Verification Products
Continuous-feed option
Videk’s (Rochester, NY) Print Verification System (PVS) is a free-standing web transport with a fully integrated inspection system. It is positioned inline with a continuous-feed laser printer. It automatically starts and stops with the laser printer, and adjusts automatically to match the printer’s speed. If desired, it can shut down the print line when an error in print quality or accuracy is detected. This system captures full-page images of the front and back of each document, either one-up or two-up. Inspection jobs are stored in memory and can be easily recalled for each new print job, without manually adjustmenting the system or camera alignment.
Circle 211 or visit

Verification for virtually any input device
Formscan’s (Chelmsford, MA) “DOCUCHECK” Windows-based verification solution can execute real-world document production tasks such as:

  • Tracking pages/signatures.
  • Sequencing signatures in any order.
  • Verifying nonsequential signatures sorted by account numbers (for example matching signatures and/or personalized covers).
  • Validating 100-percent fulfillment and providing missing piece information.
The data collection in front of Formscan’s verification system can be virtually any input device, including sensors, bar code scanners, cameras (line or area scan), and other files or databases.
Circle 212 or visit

End-to-end validation
Surchin’s (Deer Park, NY) MailVision is a camera/scanner-based engineering system for validating variable print-driven document processing and assembly applications. Once errors are detected, MailVision diverts error pieces or stops production automatically, sounds an alert and displays an error indication on its screen interface. By eliminating sampling and automating quality control while simultaneously validating individual documents and mail-kits, the integrity of document output is dramatically increased while the cost of achieving this level of integrity is substantially reduced. And all activity is logged in detailed, customizable data table architectures for end-to-end validated mail-kit and document production.
Circle 213 or visit

Networked vision sensors
Cognex (Natick, MA) In-Sight machine vision solutions can read and grade all symbologies used in document scanning at high speeds. Moving or fluttering paper and invisible barcodes are no problem. In-Sight also copes with low toner and other common inserter/inkjet system challenges.
Circle 214 or visit

Postnet verification
IntegraVision PV from Lake Image Systems (Henrietta, NY) is a PC-based camera solution that provides Postnet verification on the output of a mail inserter or stitcher on every mail piece to ensure Postnet codes qualify for optimal postage discounts. It can verify piece level sequencing, compare production to database information to identify missing and duplicate pieces and automatically sort pieces.
Circle 215 or visit

A wide range of options
Integrity technology is available from the very low intelligence sensor level (“sensed or not sensed”), to increasingly more intelligent bar code scanners as well as area scan and line scan digital cameras.

Bar coding always has been a popular coding option, and two-dimensional bar codes—which offer exponentially more security and information encoding—are becoming more prevalent.

OCR remains popular due to operators’ ability to read OCR as it is. Every OCR application should employ machine readable fonts that have been designed for camera based decoding algorithms, such as OCR-A, OCR B and MICR.

Source: Bill Riley, vice president of sales, Formscan (

What can a vision system do for you?
A vision system can provide peace of mind for:

  • Front-back matching.
  • Control code legibility for downstream document finishing (1D and 2D barcodes and OCR, both visible and invisible codes.
  • Presence/absence of key document content.
  • Correct form stock.
  • Printer-to-form registration alignment.
  • Print quality (voids, streaks, spots, etc.).
Real-time error detection
Camera-based vision systems mounted on digital printers and inserters provide real-time error detection to drastically reduce waste and rework costs. By viewing 100 percent of production at each stage of the process, these systems detect the occasional reject as well as the more troublesome large-scale errors.

High-volume digital printers running at up to 1,000 fpm as well as letter inserters running at over 20,000 pieces per hour offer excellent throughput. But if something goes wrong, things can get ugly very quickly. At these high production speeds, mountains of expensive waste can be produced before a problem is detected and remedied. In some cases, the cost to shred a document may exceed reprint expenses.

Even worse, a print error such as a form stock mix-up, could be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Data Protection Act. Under the HIPAA and GLB rules, severe federal penalties are imposed for disclosing private health or financial data to unauthorized parties.

At the printer, camera-based vision systems are available to detect and eliminate inconsistencies in digital print quality, print file programming errors, document front-back synchronization errors, improper stock selection and document content omissions.

Source: Tom Slechta, president and CEO, Videk (

Workflow integrity for perfect binding and beyond
You are producing perfectbound, personalized materials for a massive number of 401k plan participants. How do you ensure each recipient receives a book with his or her custom cover and individual account data?

Surchin (Deer Park, NY), a 38-year-old vendor of inserters and automated document assembly solutions, has teamed with Standard Finishing (Andover, MA) to solve many such variable-data dilemmas on binders, stitchers and other postpress equipment.

Surchin specializes in custom engineering solutions for variable-data applications that require sheet or document level security. Prior to working with Surchin and Standard, the company producing the previously described 401k project relied on a manual process. Operators at strip gluing stations matched covers and book blocks. The offline process was expensive and had a high error potential. The customer wanted an automated and secure process—without the use of barcodes or other visible marks.

Working with Standard, Surchin was able to put the coding information in the gluing area as well as provide the technology to match bookblocks with the correct covers. In addition to providing real-time verification during the binding process, Surchin enabled the customer to capture a high level of back-end data.


Viewpoints on mailing & fulfillment
By Denise Kapel

Just as past decades saw printers moving prepress and bindery operations in-house, many today are extending their capabilities all the way through mailing and fulfillment. Not without reason—the majority of industry forecasters tout mailing and fulfillment as a key opportunity for printers to grow. It enables them to add value to print jobs and extend their reach into customer programs, earning additional work from existing clients and attracting new business.

VuePoint Conference (April 10-12, 2006, in Orlando, FL) included a session titled “Why you should embrace mailing and fulfillment.” Moderated by Robert Pipe, vice president of tactical marketing for Pitney Bowes, the panel of commercial printers discussed the challenges and benefits of running an ancillary mailing and fulfillment business.

The panelists:

  • Keith Kanak, prepress manager, BFC Print Forms (Batavia, IL),
  • Bill Kwiatkowski, vice president of manufacturing, Classic Graphics (Charlotte, NC),
  • Frank McPherson, president, Custom Data Imaging Corp. (Markham, Ontario, Canada),
  • Mark Potter, vice president of finance and technology, Mitchell Graphics (Petoskey, MI),
“We felt strongly enough about our future in mailing and fulfillment that we hired a plant manager and launched Opus Direct,” said Kwiatkowski. Classic Graphics is a $25 million sheetfed printer specializing in high-end corporate work. The company launched its Web-enabled mailing and fulfillment operation, Opus Direct, in 2003 (see Kwiatkowski explained that the company’s development of a sophisticated kit-packing operation led directly to mailing: “While looking for software to manage inventory, we realized there was a real opportunity here for mailing and making these jobs accessible to clients via the Web.” He expects to grow print sales via the Opus Direct mailing and fulfillment business.

Potter agreed, “Most people start a new service and hope their printing carries it, but we’ve found that mailing carried our print business through the past several years.” Mitchell Graphics acquired mailing equipment and started its ancillary operation five years ago. Potter noted the need to balance customer expectations with post office service. For example, if a repeat job typically takes one week to be delivered via mail, customers react negatively when the USPS suddenly takes its full three weeks (the standard limit) to deliver it. “There’s no recourse,” he explained, adding that it’s important to collect postage from customers up front and educate them about postal regulations.

Another challenge to running a mailing or fulfillment operation can be finding the right people to perform the necessary tasks. McPherson quipped, “You have to buy the talent, so we hired someone from the post office. Don’t.” He explained the challenges in working with this particular employee involved poor work habits.

Kanak added, “Talent is as hard to find in a highly populated area as a rural one.” All of his department managers participate in the interview process, and he said their key interview question is, “How do you deal with stress?”

Kwiatkowski said running the equipment is not very difficult. “The list management side is really the critical part,” he explained. For fulfillment operations, the group cited a heavy reliance on paperwork and tracking software, as well as barcoding, in addition to list management.

“Treat the guys at the post office so well,” McPherson added, “because it can make or break you.”

Regional Postal Customer Councils (PCCs) can be very helpful to printers entering the mailing and fulfillment business, as they provide a direct, face-to-face link with the USPS. The groups provide information, conduct seminars and offer tours of USPS facilities. See

Denise Kapel is managing editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at

How does camera-based verification work?
This photo shows the vision system’s user interface display screen. The single-page, two-sided document is being printed two-across on a roll-fed digital printer.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • The top two quadrants: Detailed views of the document fronts while the bottom is showing the backs.
  • Top left quadrant: The system is reading the front of the documents for sheet sequence numbers. The system also verifies that the sequence numbers are incrementing correctly.
  • Bottom left quadrant: Reading the back of the documents for the sheet sequence numbers. The system also verifies in this view that the front and back sequence numbers match.
  • Top right quadrant: Evaluating the front for the presence and legibility of the “terms and conditions” contents.
  • Bottom right quadrant: Evaluating the back for the presence and legibility of the “endorsement block” contents.
Source: Videk (

Steve Voecks owned and operated his own printing and mailing company in California for 16 years. He is the former chairman of the Mailing Services Group of the National Assn. of Quick Printers. Contact him at Products complied by AMERICAN PRINTER staff.