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Northrop Grumman Sues US Postal Service Over Automated Snail-mail Sort Contract 80

McGruber writes "The Federal Times is reporting that Northrup Grumman has filed suit against the US Postal Service, accusing the USPS of violating the terms of the 2007 fixed-price ($875 million) contract to produce 100 massive automatic sorting systems, each capable of handling millions of magazines, catalogs and other pieces of flat mail. The Postal Service embarked on the project just as mail volume was beginning to nosedive, cutting into anticipated efficiency gains. The sorting machines' performance has been uneven, according to a series of reports by the Postal Service's inspector general."
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Northrop Grumman Sues US Postal Service Over Automated Snail-mail Sort Contract

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  • by ericloewe ( 2129490 ) on Saturday May 19, 2012 @04:25PM (#40053183)

    Apple keep buying Samsung DRAM, NAND, processors, and maybe even screens, despite ongoing litigation.

  • Re:Makes me wonder (Score:5, Informative)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Saturday May 19, 2012 @04:34PM (#40053233)

    They 100% aren't. The concept of discounted rate periodicals and std class mail was to use up slack capacity on slower mail days. Good concept.

    But now that the 1st class mail volume has dropped to what it was, they are not charging enough. They have attempted to raise the rates, but the Postal Regulatory Comission has come down hard on any attempt to proportionally raise the rates of perodicals, non-machinable flats, and other "low value" documents.

  • Re:In Soviet Russia (Score:5, Informative)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Saturday May 19, 2012 @04:34PM (#40053237) Homepage

    You should have started with "In Soviet Russia, letters send you!"

    Seriously, my understanding is that the USPS relies on OCR rather than a special format to handle a lot of sorting and routing, and secondarily on humans to figure out what goes where. In the US, the zip code was invented in 1963 to get a letter at least as far as the correct post office, and the zip+4 came about in 1983 to get you within a typical city block - by that point, it's in the right carrier's bag, and can be delivered correctly fairly easily.

  • Re:In Soviet Russia (Score:4, Informative)

    by optimism ( 2183618 ) on Saturday May 19, 2012 @04:39PM (#40053269)

    Last I checked, machine recognition of handwritten zip codes was better than 99.5%.

    That was about 5 years ago. Presumably it has improved since.

    So, there is no need for special machine codes. They can read your writing as-is, or pass the rare piece of mail to a human sorter if the confidence margin is too low.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday May 19, 2012 @04:42PM (#40053277) Homepage

    The previous generation of flat sorting machine. [] The new flat sorting machine. [] The mechanical problems of sorting large volumes of flats of varied size and thickness with flapping loose pages have finally been solved. But it doesn't matter. Putting ads on glossy paper and shipping them to people who don't really want them much is a dying industry.

    The USPS really wants to get out of the deal for the flat sorting system, because the flats business (mostly catalogs and magazines) is declining. Mail volume overall peaked in 2006, and has been in a screaming dive [] since then. The USPS doesn't need a new generation of flat sorting machinery. But the USPS signed a firm fixed-price contract for the gear, and they're stuck with it.

    Paper mail, as a business, is tanking. [] "We forecast U.S. postal volumes to decrease from 177B pieces in 2009 to around 150B pieces in 2020 under business-as-usual assumptions. Notably, volumes will not revisit the high-water-mark of 213B pieces in 2006 -- on the contrary, the trajectory for the next 10 years is one of steady decline, which will not reverse even as the current recession abates. Expressing the decline in terms of pieces per delivery point highlights the challenge: we project pieces per household per day to fall from four pieces today to three in 2020 -- driven by decreasing volumes delivered to an increasing number of addresses." That's the optimistic scenario - recession over in 2012, no "Do Not Mail" bulk mail opt-out legislation. It's also from a 2010 study that didn't really consider the move to smartphones.

  • Re:In Soviet Russia (Score:5, Informative)

    by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Saturday May 19, 2012 @05:28PM (#40053525)

    Something like 99.7% of USPS mail is autosorted. There are three (IIRC on the number) centers were a few dozen human-type people view (remotely, from the regional sorting center) the 0.3% that doesn't autosort. Again IIRC those people are able to sort 99% of the remaining, usually within 10 seconds. The rest go to the dead mail office.

    The pictures people have in their minds of USPS "inefficiency" are the way things were done in the 1950s; the USPS started automating in a big way in the 60s and funded a lot of research in machine vision and OCR in the 60s and 70s.


... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"