In the last few posts, I discussed a process to move forward in the changing world of print to mail. First, evaluate your commitment to the operation or business model. Next, if you are staying in the game, automate your physical processes to lower costs and increase profits, speed and quality. In this post, I’ll discuss validating processes by leveraging automation.

The old saying tells us, “If you can’t prove it, it didn’t happen.” How true this is in a manufacturing environment, especially considering the pressure on printers and mailers to be on time, every time, with high quality and meet increasingly enforced regulations from the United States Postal Service (USPS). While great strides have been made on individual silos of production with respect to speed, quality and tracking, precious few have automated the connective processes between those silos.

MORE: For Print to Mail Players, It's Time to Evaluate Your Commitment to the Business Model

Take for example the highly productive and heavily invested in operation utilizing the newest technology in data automation, printing, inserting and warehousing. Compared to 10 or even five years ago, the speed at which those individual processes are accomplished at a job, run or separation has increased at warp speed. Interestingly, the technology used to connect those processes, departments or silos of production have not kept pace or even changed at all. The result is short bursts of productivity, followed by lag times moving completed units of work to the next step in the production process. Or even if the flow of work is leveled, it is accomplished through additional costly human labor. More human hands on processes lends itself to loss of “vision” in the workflow and greater risk.

Its human nature in a high-speed, high-stress environment for quality control sheets to be “pencil whipped” by operators and material movement personnel. Self-auditing rarely works because “the fox should not be watching the henhouse.” How many times has an error occurred in your operation where the “QC” sheets are filled out properly at every step, yet the error is staring you in the face? Many times, the reaction is to establish the dreaded Quality Control department, an adversarial, semi-effective and expensive undertaking, adding even more human hands to the workflow and detached from productivity goals. The end result in either scenario is an unprovable manufacturing process. How can you appeal any full rate postage assessment, missed service-level agreement or performance assessment with an unprovable, manually generated internal audit trail? The answer is you can’t.

"How many times has an error occurred in your operation where the “QC” sheets are filled out properly at every step, yet the error is staring you in the face?"

In an automated environment, as I discussed in the last post, tray-based workflow was examined. Utilizing the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) at the piece level, the barcoded tray tag at the tray level and barcoded pallet placard at the pallet level, every piece in every tray on every pallet is accounted for. Through conveyance and robotics in a truly automated facility, work can flow through the operation and be scanned at logical “hand-offs” between processes. Utilizing that scanned data, units of work are never “lost” or unaccounted for through the entire process, connecting all the silos or processes.

Additionally, if no human hands touch those physical processes, a “bullet-proof” audit trail is attainable and connected to the virtual processes at the same time. The virtual and physical processes, now truly connected, validate the work actually being produced without costly human labor or errors. An impartial automated audit trail illustrates productivity and where bottlenecks and errors occur. This also accommodates level loading and processes working toward end results, not just maximizing individual departments or process.

The technology to attain this bullet-proof process already exists in other industries and is available now to the print to mail industry. With the changing face of the USPS, Seamless Acceptance and the need for industry players to avoid the coming risks, validation of the entire production process is more important than ever. 

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