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.