If you have received PostalOne!® validation errors for barcode uniqueness, or are seeing Mailer Scorecard results for this validation exceeding the allowed thresholds, you are not alone. This is actually a fairly frequent issue that many mailers encounter. Managing the uniqueness for these barcodes can be a challenge, particularly if you have a number of different mail processing workflows. The key is to remember that the barcodes must maintain uniqueness for a period of 45 days after the mailing date, and that each and every method you use for generating these barcodes needs to be included in your uniqueness management process.
What makes up the barcode?
The Intelligent Mail® barcodes on trays and sacks, also known as handling units, are comprised of a 24-digit data string broken down into 6 separate components. For these barcodes, all 24-digits are used to determine uniqueness (for Full-Service eligibility, uniqueness of the barcodes is required for a period of at least 45 days).
- Destination ZIP Code™: the first 5 digits of the barcode with the routing information.
- Content ID Number (CIN): This is 3 characters long and represents the presort qualification.
- Processing Code: this is 1 byte and identifies whether it’s automation, machineable, etc.
- Mailer ID (MID): this is a 6- or 9-digit code used to identify the mail owner, the mailing agent, or other service provider. For the handling unit tags, the MID used is usually that of the mail preparer, or may also be that of the mail owner.
- Serial Number: this is a 5- or 8-digit number depending on the length of the Mailer ID. This is a different number than what is used on the piece barcode.
- Label Type: this is just a one byte field describing the length of Mailer ID. That way other software knows where the mailer ID ends and when the serial number begins.
Most presort software packages have utilities that may be used to manage the uniqueness of these handling unit barcodes. However, post-presort software, such as Window Book’s DAT-MAIL solution, is generally considered a better way to manage this uniqueness because trays/sacks may change between the original presort job and the final submission to PostalOne!
Container barcodes for Letters and Flats
Container tags, which are used for containers such as pallets, Gaylord’s, APC’s, OTR’s, etc., also should have an Intelligent Mail barcode on them. For Full-Service eligibility, these barcodes must be unique for a period of at least 45 days. These barcodes are comprised of four components to make up a 21-digit data string. As with the handling unit barcodes, all 21 digits of this barcode are used to define uniqueness:
- Application ID: this is 2-digits and is always “99”
- Type Indicator: this 1-digit and is always “M”. So when you hear the reference “99M tag”, you can simply think of it as an Intelligent Mail container tag.
- Mailer ID this is a 6- or 9-digit code used to identify the mail owner, the mailing agent, or other service provider. For the container tags, the MID used is usually that of the mail preparer, or may also be that of the mail owner.
- Serial Number: 9- or 12-digits depending on the length of the Mailer ID.
As with handling units, the uniqueness of the container barcodes may be managed using either presort or post-presort software.
Location of the barcode data
So, where do I check to make sure this data is correct and unique? This barcode data is located in the Container Summary File or CSM in the Mail.dat file – specifically in field CSM-1150. This is not to be confused with the User Container ID field (CSM-1123), which may be used to populate the handling unit or container number (tray number, sack number, pallet number) used by the mail preparer for physical preparation of the mail.
As mentioned above, the uniqueness of this barcode data may be managed using either presort or post-presort software tools, or you may need a combination of both. If you are a Mail Service Provider, this can get a little tricky if you don’t receive all of your Mail.dat files from the same presort provider, or if you don’t process all of your Mail.dat files using the same post-presort software. In these cases, you really need to make use of different Mailer ID’s (MID) to help manage the uniqueness. For example, if you do not process all of your Mail.dat files through your post-presort software, or you don’t use the same configuration settings for all of your jobs, it is best to obtain a separate MID for each scenario you have.
If you run into issues with your barcodes, you will need to become a bit of a detective to try to get to the root cause. The place to start your investigation is field CSM-1150 in the Mail.dat file. Check to see that there is data in the field, that the data is the correct length, and that it appears to contain the correct string of data components. If something is missing or incorrect, it is likely a presort issue that can be quickly corrected with some parameter adjustments. You’ll also need to determine at what point in your mailing process these tags and placards are printed, and what software and hardware you are using to print them. If you are using your presort software to manage these barcodes, the first thing to do is to consider allowing your post-presort software to manage them. The second thing to do is check with your presort provider or data processing team to review the impacted files and the presort parameters used to generate them.
If you are printing these using a post-presort software solution, you will need to also verify that you have the correct configuration settings in the software to either pass through the barcode data from the presort process, or if you want to over-write that barcode data with new barcode data maintained by the post-presort software. If you use multiple processes for different jobs, verify that there is no overlap; i.e., are you using the same MID in the barcodes maintained by your presort process as the MID in the barcodes maintained by your post-presort process? If you are, this will definitely cause a problem. Now, this may be kind of obvious, but you’ll also need to check your printing hardware to make sure it is configured to print the barcode technology, and that the equipment is cleaned and maintained so that the printed barcodes are readable.
So, where do you go to get more information? The first resource is the Business Customer Gateway and PostalOne! They can assist you in explaining in more detail the MID’s and CRID’s, barcodes, and serial numbers and how they impact uniqueness. The USPS RIBBS® web site also has a wealth of information in the technical guides.
Window Book’s DAT-MAIL™ software allows you to easily manage the uniqueness of your handling unit and container barcodes.
Getting Help From the Window Book Experts
Window Book can help you determine the best method for producing accurate tags and placards, and also to help manage the barcode uniqueness. Window Book also offers our Mailing Optimization Analysis. Call us at 1-800-524-0380 for more details or to sign up for your FREE Intelligent Mail Readiness Analysis!