The Quest for Letter Perfect Mailing Systems

As communication grows ever faster and more personalized, and mailers look to keep up with the Internet’s ability to transmit information, inline envelope converters offer exciting potential. They can speed the entire mailing process, reduce inventory and other expenses, and add greater customization to mailings. But they are not for everybody.

Before considering the major expense of an inline envelope converter, would-be buyers must consider factors ranging from mail volume and software requirements to operators’ learning curves, among many other considerations.

“This is a very specific niche within the market,” says Andrew Schipke, vice president of sales and marketing with W+D North America. “That’s particularly true because of the volumes required when you’re talking about inline envelope converting that allows you to create an envelope and the material within it in one pass.

“You’re printing the envelope, addressing the envelope, personalizing it, inserting personalized or static content into the envelope, and putting it into the mail system in one pass. You need something like five million packages a month for you to be in the type of mailing volume justifying this expenditure.”

But the volume alone doesn’t make the purchase of this equipment the right move. Companies that do choose this path, says Schipke, “are basically dictating” that they will be using inkjet as their primary envelope printing process. That requires customers to embrace inkjet from the standpoint of quality and color, and that they accept “this concept of an inline system,” he says.

These days, many envelopes, particularly those to be used in direct mail, are created through litho offset printing, Schipke reports. Flexo also has a portion of the market, albeit a smaller one, and is often used in long-run transactional printing of bills due to the low cost of production.

“Now you’re transitioning that technology, with its different characteristics that have to be dealt with from a marketing position,” Schipke says. “The market has to understand and accept that, when we start talking about a singular inline process. You’re now moving from buying a pre-printed envelope printed on flexo or litho and inserting content and changing to this newer technology, inkjet.”

Driving the change is that the market is seeking ways to make mail more competitive with its electronic counterparts, which means making it faster. “People want to drive out cost, react more quickly, and introduce variable printing technologies never before encompassed into the mailstream,” he says.

“When you say, ‘I need variable data as part of the envelope,’ you’re bringing in variable data technology, which in turn brings in inkjet technology.”

The technology is not for every organization, given a price tag that is well in excess of $1 million. But medical, banking, direct mail, and other industries using high volumes of mail are interested in its ability to reduce costs.


Pitney Bowes Mailstream Wrapper

Among the leaders in this technology is Pitney Bowes, whose Mailstream Wrapper allows users to take a single piece of paper, build the envelope, and wrap it around a document. “We have a term called the White Paper Factory,” says Grant Miller, vice president of global strategic product management, Document Messaging Technologies.

“The concept is you buy white rolls of paper, and have a minimum amount in your inventory. You print the document online on one roll. On the other roll you either have white paper you wrap around as the envelope, spraying the address on later with inkjet, or you have a windowed envelope that allows the document’s address to show through that envelope window. You carry the minimal amount of inventory, and allow yourself to co-mingle jobs.”

By contrast, typical mailers might have several hundred envelopes carried in inventory, and an equal number of rolls of pre-printed paper. Instead of a two-step process involving carrying considerable inventory, it’s done in one step.

With the Mailstream Wrapper, you have the ability to not only build an envelope around the document and eliminate the inventory, but to personalize printed messages on the inside of the envelope, and print the outside of the envelope with unique messages, branded offers or special promotions.

While the Mailstream Wrapper can support a variety of needs and volumes, the biggest benefit comes from volume mailers or businesses that can co-mingle jobs, Miller says. Incepture, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, is an example of a mailer using the Mailstream Wrapper as part of its growth strategy to gain more volume, he adds.

Incepture has replaced five printers and seven inserters with two Pitney Bowes IntelliJet 20 Printing Systems and two Mailstream Wrapper Productivity Series. The benefits derived include reduced inventory, higher productivity resulting from reduced machine delays, and lower costs, Miller reports.

The system requires output management software, which normalizes the jobs so they can be run consistently, regardless of print platform, and permits co-mingling of jobs. That allows, for example, the next 15 jobs to be run in ZIP code sequence as one large job run at full productivity, rather than 15 small jobs, each involving makeready, waste, set-up time, and stoppages. “As one big job, you can run them as if scale, even if you don’t have scale,” Miller says.

As for a learning curve, count on the typical amount of training an operator would be required to master on any new machine, he adds. “Operators come to Pitney Bowes, and in some cases we come to them,” he says. “They learn how to set up the machine, operate the software to input jobs, and monitor jobs that need to be rerun. They are trained on routine maintenance procedures and they also get some training on preventive maintenance.”


Kern PageMailer Inline Envelope Converter

This high-speed machine from Kern USA is capable of doing 18,000 or 30,000 pieces an hour, says the company’s director, marketing Ryan McManus. “There’s no one type of customer that would use it,” he reports. “Many customers buying the PageMailer are service bureaus.”

Cost savings and application benefits are among the advantages of the PageMailer. “With traditional equipment, you must have your stock and your envelopes, and this converts them into one process using just one roll or cut sheet of paper,” McManus says. “If companies are using pressure-seal forms, there’s a huge benefit to using the PageMailer. It does the gluing, perforating, and folding all inline, and doesn’t require any special paper.

“The PageMailer lets you do a double-sided postcard, leaving the sides open and gluing the top, and you can mail that at the postcard rate. So there are the postage savings in addition to saving on materials and inventory costs.”

Customers can use their own composition software for designing mail pieces. Kern has its own proprietary software, mailFactory, to manage the production process of the PageMailer. For document engineering, the customer can purchase Ai-RPM PROStream software from Kern, McManus says.

PageMailer is often used for “utility-type applications,” he adds. These include sending a PIN number, providing account information, and other one-way mailings that require no response. “But there’s the dual benefit of using it in marketing applications for postcards,” he says. “Our customers are able to sell both transactional and marketing products produced on PageMailer.”


W + D North America 234D

The 234D is one element—the inkjet overprint portion—of the company’s Timos. The product has the ability “to take a standard white envelop from anyone and overprint it with inkjet imaging,” Schipke says. “We can personalize it, do corner cut work and do variable data work at very high production volumes. As the market evolves, we’re seeing more people want to get into inkjet to simplify their workflow and be faster to market; to basically put through more work on a single machine. It will print high volumes of mail with digital print.”

Operators using the 234D require an understanding of file management on a computer, and a comprehension of color theory or color management, Schipke says. “Operators don’t have to possess the same skills they had with an offset or flexo press,” he adds. “They need to understand color theory and ways to alter color in a CMYK world, and what CMYK does well and doesn’t do well.”