USPS to adopt new bar coding system

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is on track to put a new bar code system into production next year that will help to automate the processing of mail being sent by large mailers.

The new barcodes will be longer than the barcodes now used and contain additional information that will let mailers track individual pieces as they move through the postal network. USPS announced its infrastructure would be ready to accept and read the new codes by May if mailers are ready to use them, although rates for the service have not yet been set, said Tom Day, USPS senior vice president of Intelligent Mail and address quality.

'Given the volatility of the economy, decreasing mail volumes and our own financial situation, it would be premature for us to commit to a pricing structure for the Intelligent Mail bar code at this time,' he said last week at a meeting of the Mailers' Technical Advisory Committee, which provides an interface between the Postal Service and the mailing industry.

The Postal Service published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in January outlining requirements for taking advantage of two classes of Intelligent Mail services. For full service, a unique code must be applied to each piece of mail, as well as to each handling container such as a tray or sack, and larger carriers such as pallets. Basic service would require only a bar code on each piece of mail, but not on containers.

The deadline for implementing the new system originally was to be January 2009 but was pushed back after the industry weighed in with its comments.

'We are encouraged by the interest in our Intelligent Mail vision,' the service wrote in April in a subsequent notice of proposed rulemaking. 'We received over 400 letters and e-mail messages in response to our advance notice. We received over 2,000 additional comments during our regional outreach sessions with customers. Many commenters shared our enthusiasm for the Intelligent Mail initiative, however, some were concerned about our communication efforts, the timing of the changes, and the specifics of the program such as pricing and Mailer IDs. ... A number of commenters questioned the readiness of mailers and the Postal Service to use Intelligent Mail bar codes by January 2009. In response, we are proposing that the mailing standards and prices for Intelligent Mail bar codes become effective in May 2009 concurrent with the implementation of the annual price change for Mailing Services.'

USPS also will continue to accept the current bar codes automatically handled letters and flats until May 2010.

The new bar codes are two-dimensional machine-readable codes that will carry additional data for each level of mail:
  • Intelligent Mail bar code for mailpieces: A 65-bar code that uniquely identifies each letter or other flat piece within the mailing for sorting and tracking. It will contain a bar code ID, a service type ID, a six- or nine-digit mailer ID, a six- or nine-digit serial number, and a delivery point ZIP Code of up to 11 digits.
  • Intelligent Mail bar code for handling units such as trays and sacks: A 24-digit bar code that will include routing information as well as a unique identifier for the mailer and each tray or sack. This will be phased in and used initially with the current 10-digit bar code to allow USPS to upgrade its processing systems to the new format.
  • Intelligent Mail container bar code for containers such as pallets: This contains identifiers showing the source of the bar code, the six or nine-digit mailer ID, and a serial number. The serial number is a unique ID for each container within the mailing and cannot be reused within 45 days.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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