For all the challenges the Postal Service of the 21st century faces, it still retains its traditional place as a key cog in how American businesses conduct their affairs and how Americans all across this land communicate.
—John M. McHugh, U.S. Representative, New York

The Mail Gets Smarter

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Advanced Facer Canceller System at the Processing and Distribution Center at Dulles Airport, Reston, Virginia.

As automation advanced, more and more mail was handled primarily by machines rather than humans. But these machines were not, at first, particularly clever. They could do only one, rather simple, repetitive task.

As USPS software grew more sophisticated, however, machines began to multitask—they were able to deal with different types of mail pieces and various contingencies. This introduced new levels of efficiency and nimbleness to a Postal Service that was larger than ever.

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Robots help move mail through mail plants.

Helping a Brother Out
From Reston, Virginia to Stillwater, Oklahoma

Judy Franklin sends a check to her younger brother Ben. He is a college student at Oklahoma State, and occasionally needs a small loan from family. Unfortunately, Judy forgot when addressing the envelope that Ben had recently moved to a new apartment.

When Judy’s letter reaches the Processing and Distribution Center at Dulles Airport, it is identified in the Advanced Facer Canceller System—the second machine it goes through—as being incorrectly addressed. The Postal Automated Redirection System (PARS), a newly implemented piece of software, reads Judy’s hand-written address and compares it to a database of recently changed addresses. Because Ben filled out a change of address slip, the system recognizes this problem. The AFCS then directs the letter to another machine which reads the ID tag and affixes a label with the new address.

In the past, incorrectly addressed mail often traveled from the sender all the way to the local post office of the addressee before the address was corrected. With PARS, the address on a piece of mail is compared to a database of forwarding addresses at the first distribution center. If a forwarding address is found, the letter is labeled with a new address and barcode. It is then immediately returned to the normal sorting process.

Systems at Work