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A method and system for regenerating misprocessed mailpieces and the like. Control documents are produced by a data processing system and transported to an inserter system. The inserter system inputs the control documents and assembles mailpieces in accordance with coded information on the documents. If the inserter system controller identifies a misprocessed mailpiece it writes a record, which can be a separate zero byte file, to a common data store. The data processing system accesses the record in the common data store and regenerates the control document. The inserter system processes the regenerated control document to regenerate the mailpiece.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS OF THE SUBJECT INVENTION
FIG. 2 shows mail preparation system which includes data processing system and mailpiece assembly system .
Data processing system is programmed in a conventional manner to generate documents , which include control documents CD and associated documents P; with one control document CD and its associated documents P being associated with each mailpiece, wherein control documents CD are marked with barcode pointers to mailpiece records in the manner described above. In the embodiment shown, system controls printer to print documents directly and documents are transported physically for assembly; however, any convenient method of output ant transport, such as electronic output and transmission for remote printing, can be used and is within the contemplation of the subject invention.
Data processing system also generates and outputs a mailing control file, (hereinafter sometimes mail run data file, or MRDF) which includes a plurality of mailpiece records, in a conventional manner. The mailpiece records each include a plurality of fields containing data for controlling assembly of the mailpiece. The mailing control file is communicated to mailpiece assembly system through communications link , which can utilize any convenient form of communication, such as electronic data communication or the physical transfer of media without departing from the scope the subject invention.
Data processing system is also programmed with an automated print regeneration program (hereinafter sometimes APR program) which monitors common data store to identify misprocessed mailpieces and control system to regenerate the associated document set, including the control document for the misprocessed mailpiece, as will be further described below.
In the embodiment shown in FIG. 2, mailpiece assembly system includes inserter systems A, B, and C, which are substantially similar to conventional inserter system described above with reference to FIG. 1, of the type wherein control documents CD include a barcode pointer to a mailpiece record. The method of the subject invention can be used with inserter systems using dash code to control assembly of the mailpieces, but, as will be more clearly seen from the description below, the subject invention requires that control document CD uniquely identify its associated mailpiece. Typically, due to space limitations on the face of control documents, dash codes typically do not include such information. Thus in a particularly advantageous and preferred embodiment, the subject invention is used in combination with inserter systems controlled through an MRDF, since the ability to regenerate control documents while a mailing is still being processed and the MRDF is still accessible on-line allows rapid regeneration of any misprocessed mailpieces. In other embodiments different types of inserter systems having expanded (e.g. more insert modules ) or different functions (e.g. matched mail generation or address verification) can be used without departing from the scope of the subject invention.
Mailpiece assembly system also includes controllers A, B, and C for controlling operation of inserter systems A, B, and C in a manner which will be described more fully below. Controllers A, B, and C are also programmed with an automated print regeneration manager (hereinafter sometimes APR manager), which writes records to the APR data store identifying misprocessed mailpieces.
Mailpiece assembly system also includes file server which manages MRDF data store which stores mailing control files downloaded from data processing system , and which also communicates appropriate mailing control files to controllers A, B or C as mailings are assigned to inserter systems, as will be more fully described below. Server also controls automatic print regeneration (hereinafter sometimes APR) data store which stores records of misprocessed mailpieces, as will be further described below. Data store stores a “Select File” which contains sequential records of the identification numbers of misprocessed mailpieces identified by controllers A, B and C, as will be described further below. Generation of such Select Files is well known in the art. (Data stores , and are preferably stored on a common storage device but are shown separately for ease of illustration. In general such data stores can be maintained on any device or system which is conveniently accessible without departing from the scope of the subject invention, and are preferably maintained on common network mapped drives accessible by APR program and controllers A, B, and C.)
Mailpiece assembly system also includes manager's workstation , which includes display D and keyboard K through which a site manager can access and edit data stores and and can assign mailings to various inserter systems.
Communications among workstation , file server and controllers A, B and C is preferably carried out over conventional local area network in a manner well understood by those skilled in the art and which need not be discussed further for an understanding of the subject invention.
Turning to FIGS. 3A, B, and C, a high level flow diagram of the operation of mail preparation system in accordance with the method of the subject invention is shown.
At data processing system generates document sets for a mailing. Each of sets corresponds to a particular mailpiece and includes a control document CD and any associated pages P. Each of control documents CD includes coded information which is used by one of controllers A, B, or C to control corresponding inserter system A, B, or C (hereinafter assumed to be controller A and system A) to assemble the corresponding mailpiece. At the document sets are transported to inserter system A. In the embodiment shown, documents are printed locally by printer and physically transported to system A, but in other preferred embodiments the documents can be generated in any convenient manner such as on portable magnetic media, or by electronic transmission for remote printing.
Then, at , data processing system downloads an MRDF to data store through file server . As described above the MRDF comprises mailpiece records defining assembly of each mailpiece MP in the mailing, as is well known in the art, and control documents CD include barcode pointers identifying corresponding records in a similarly well known manner. In other embodiments control documents CD can include conventional dash code for direct control of the assembly of the mailpiece, and uniquely identifying the mailpiece, without departing from the scope of the subject invention.
Then, at , data processing system starts APR program to monitor APR records stored in data store , as will be further described below.
(While in the embodiment shown in FIGS. 3A-C, for clarity of description, only a single mailing and APR data store are described, those skilled in the art will recognize that in many embodiments multiple mailings can be in process at one time. Thus APR program will preferably have a capability to track multiple mailings and associated APR files and will normally be running on system in the background. Those skilled in the art will also recognize that though APR program is shown running on data processing system program can run on any convenient system which communicates with system so long as APR program can cause system (or another system having access to the original data) to access its original data and regenerate document sets for misprocessed mailpieces.)
When document sets reach inserter system A documents are input in sequence at , mailpiece identification numbers are read at , and the MRDF in data store is accessed to read the corresponding mailpiece record. Such initial input operations are well known to those skilled in the mailing art and need not be discussed further for an understanding of the subject invention.
(Those skilled in the art will recognize that inserter systems as shown in FIG. 1 comprise a series of stations through which partially completed mailpieces MP progress in sequence as they are processed. Thus, though operations of inserter A are shown with respect to a single mailpiece MP in FIGS. 3A-C, those skilled in the art will recognize that controller A is programmed to concurrently control assembly of all of mailpieces MP being processed by system A at any one time. Also, as used in the description set forth below the term “mailpiece” includes “accumulations’, as described above, as required by context.)
Then at controller A checks to determine if the documents have been regenerated; that is whether the documents correspond to the initial processing of mailpiece MP or correspond to one of mailpieces MP which has been previously misprocessed. This information can be input through manager's work station when one or more mailpieces are to be regenerated, or, in other embodiments, the corresponding mailpiece record is updated to reflect previously processed mailpieces. If, at , it is determined that mailpiece MP is regenerated then the sequence of mailpiece identification numbers is checked against the Select File in data store , otherwise it is checked against the MRDF sequence, where each successive mailpiece identification numbers must be incremented or decremented by one.
Monitoring the sequence of mailpiece identification numbers is a well known technique for maintaining the quality of a mailing. Typically each successive mailpiece identification number is incremented (or decremented) by one for each successive mailpiece. Thus, a sequence . . . ,,, . . . is a clear indication that a mailpiece has been misprocessed. However, by definition, regenerated mailpieces will be processed out of sequence with respect to the MRDF. Accordingly in the subject invention when a mailpiece MP is regenerated its sequence is checked against the Select File. As discussed above, a Select file is a conventionally maintained file of the sequence of identification numbers of misprocessed mailpieces which are generated by inserter systems after misprocessed mailpieces are detected. By checking the identification numbers against the Select File quality assurance is maintained even during processing of regenerated mailpieces. It is important to note that though the increments between successive regenerated mailpiece identification numbers will be substantially random, regenerated mailpieces will be processed in a monotonically increasing (or decreasing) sequence corresponding to the sequence in which the misprocessed mailpieces were originally input to inserter system A so that misprocessed regenerated mailpieces can be accurately identified.
It is important to note that preserving the original sequence of misprocessed mailpieces provides important advantages in maintaining the integrity of the mailing; e.g. assuring that all mailpieces are processed, assuring that the mailing meets pre-sort requirements for discounted postage rates, etc.
Then at controller A tests to determine if mailpiece MP is in sequence. If it is determined that it is not in sequence at controller A exits to an error routine at . Otherwise, at controller A accesses the corresponding mailpiece record in the MRDF, and, at , assembles corresponding mailpiece MP in accordance with data in the mailpiece record. Then, at , controller A tests to determine if mailpiece MP is done. Mailpiece MP is classified as “done” if it is detected as exiting inserter system A, or if a mailpiece with a higher identification number (or lower if mailpieces MP are processed in descending order) is detected as exiting system A. If it is determined at that mailpiece MP is not done controller loops back to .
Operations described at through are well known in the mailing art and need not be described further here for an understanding of the subject invention.
When mailpiece MP is done controller A tests its status at . As is well known in the art, inserter controllers will typically concurrently track status of each mailpiece being processed as it moves through the stations of the inserter system. If, at it is determined that the status of mailpiece MP is good then mailpiece MP is considered to have been properly processed and is output. Otherwise, at controller A updates an intermediate file, sometimes known as an “Interlock File”, to record the identification number of mailpiece MP as a misprocessed mailpiece; and then, at , writes an APR record, which is preferably a zero byte file, identifying mailpiece MP as misprocessed to data store . (As is known in the art, the above described “Interlock File” is then used to generate the Select file upon completion of the mailing run.)
In a preferred embodiment the status of mailpiece MP is tested by comparison to predetermined filter parameters established during the initial set up for the mailing. Conventionally an inserter system controller will monitor certain states, selected in accordance with the filter parameters, of a mailpiece as it is processed by the inserter system and record these states in a status record (e.g. the Interlock and Select files). Typically, such states can include, but are not limited to:
Lost and jammed pieces
Manually removed pieces
Manually rejected pieces
Manually repaired pieces
Pieces left on inserter
Pieces outsorted as “Bad”
Pieces outsorted as “Maybe”
During initial set-up a system operator can initialize the regeneration operation by selecting one or more of these states as filter parameters. If during the above described status test any selected state is found for mailpiece MP, mailpiece MP is selected for regeneration as described above.
Controller A then exits. (i.e. With respect to the single mailpiece described. As discussed above, controller A will continue to concurrently control assembly of other mailpieces on inserter system A until the mailing is complete.)
While in the preferred embodiment described above programming for tracking misprocessed mailpieces, sometimes referred to as an APR manager, is incorporated into controller A, in other embodiments another processor, for example workstation , having appropriate access over network can be programmed to monitor Interlock Files for various inserter systems and write APR files to corresponding APR data stores.
Returning to data processing system and APR program , at program checks the APR directory in data store to determine if any APR records have been written to data store by controller A.
As discussed above, in a preferred embodiment, each record of a misprocessed mail piece is written as a separate zero byte file to eliminate contention between controller A and APR program for file access. Generally zero byte files are preferred, with the file name serving to identify the misprocessed mailpiece. However, in other embodiments where other information is needed to regenerate control document CD, for example an account number to be charged with regeneration costs, the APR file can include data needed to regenerate the mailpiece.
Then at program tests to determine if APR files have been found. If, at , files have not been found program loops back through a one second pause at to . Otherwise, if files are found, APR program pauses for approximately thirty seconds at . This pause at is not absolutely necessary to the subject invention but is preferred since it increases the efficiency of regeneration. Generally misprocessed mailpieces will occur in groups. By pausing for a period of time which is long with respect to the processing time of an inserter system, which typically process mailpieces at a rate on the order of thousands of mailpieces per hour, other related misprocessed mailpieces will be identified and can be regenerated as a group more efficiently.
Then at program reads all records, i.e. all APR files. In another, preferred embodiment APR program will only read a predetermined maximum number of APR files from data store , typically about twenty. By limiting the number of mailpieces to regenerated to such maximum the overall efficiency of the regeneration process has been found to be optimized.
Then at and , APR program causes data processing system to retrieve the original data for document sets associated with misprocessed mailpieces and regenerate such document sets .
Then at regenerated document sets are transported to inserter system A in the same manner as described above at . As can be seen in FIG. 3A, regenerated documents are then input to system A and processed in the manner described above.
Then at program clears the APR files to avoid repetitive regeneration of mailpieces.
Then at program optionally flags the mailpiece records in the MRDF to identify the regenerated documents. Alternatively a system operator can identify the regenerated documents, as described above.
Then at program tests to determine if the mailing is done. Typically the mailing is considered as done when system A signals that all mailpieces MP have been successfully processed; perhaps after multiple iterations of the APR process; or when an operator indicates that the remaining misprocessed mailpieces can be manually processed, ignored or otherwise handled.
At if the mailing is not done program loops back . Otherwise program exits. (i.e. With respect to the mailing described. As discussed above, typically APR program will continually execute to regenerate documents for other mailpieces misprocessed in other mailings.)
It will also be apparent to those skilled in the art that, while the subject invention is preferably intended for use in the preparation of large mailings, in other embodiments the subject invention can be used for other applications. For example, in another embodiment the control document can be a freight bill used to control conventional automated “picking” systems to assemble small items or packages to form a package for delivery.
The embodiments described above and illustrated in the attached drawings have been given by way of example and illustration only. From the teachings of the present application those skilled in the art will readily recognize numerous other embodiments in accordance with the subject invention. Accordingly, limitations on the subject invention are to be found only in the claims set forth below.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1 shows a schematic block diagram of a prior art inserter system.
FIG. 2 shows a schematic block diagram of a system for preparing mailpieces and regenerating misprocessed mailpieces.
FIGS. 3A-3C show a flow diagram of the operation of the system of FIG. .
1. A method for controlling an inserter system to regenerate misprocessed mailpieces, comprising the steps of: a) identifying said misprocessed mailpiece; b) writing a record identifying said misprocessed mailpiece to a common data store accessible by a data processing system; c) inputting said record to said data processing system; d) said data processing system regenerating a control document associated with said misprocessed mailpiece in accordance with said record, said control document specifying assembly of said misprocessed mailpiece; e) inputting said regenerated control document to said inserter system; f) said inserter system assembling another mailpiece substantially in accordance with specifications for said misprocessed mailpiece on said regenerated control document.
2. A method as described in claim 1 wherein identification of said misprocessed mailpiece is carried out by testing a status record corresponding to said misprocessed mailpiece against predetermined filter parameters when processing of said misprocessed mailpiece is done.
3. A method as described in claim 2 wherein said misprocessed mailpiece is classified as done when a subsequent mailpiece is output by said inserter system.
4. A method as described in claim 2 wherein said filter parameters are programmed by an operator prior to beginning operation of said inserter system.
5. A method as described in claim 1 wherein said control document specifies said misprocessed mailpiece by use of a pointer to a mailpiece record for determining assembly of said misprocessed mailpiece.
6. A system for assembling mailpieces and regenerating misprocessed mailpieces, comprising: a) an inserter system; b) a controller for controlling said inserter system to assemble said mailpieces in accordance with information included on control documents; c) means for detecting a misprocessed mailpiece; d) means, responsive to said detecting means, for writing a record identifying said misprocessed mailpiece to a common data store, whereby a control document corresponding to said misprocessed mailpiece can be regenerated in accordance with said record by control document generating apparatus having access to said common data store; and wherein e) said system processes said regenerated control documents to regenerate said misprocessed mailpiece.
7. A system as described in claim 6 wherein said detecting means and said writing means are comprised in said controller.
8. A system as described in claim 6 wherein said control documents specify said mailpieces by use of pointers to corresponding mailpiece records for determining assembly of said mailpieces.
9. A system as described in claim 6 further comprising a data processing system responsive to said record to regenerate a control document corresponding to said misprocessed document.
10. A system as described in claim 9 wherein said record is written to said common data store as separate file, whereby contention for access to said file is eliminated.
11. A system as described in claim 10 wherein said separate file is a zero byte file, a file name for said separate file being selected so as to identify said misprocessed mailpiece.
12. A system for assembling groups of items and regenerating misprocessed groups, comprising: a) an automatic system for selecting items and assembling said selected items into groups; b) a controller for controlling said automatic system to assemble said groups in accordance with information included on control documents; c) means for detecting a misprocessed group; d) means, responsive to said detecting means, for writing a record identifying said misprocessed group to a common data store, whereby a control document corresponding to said misprocessed group can be regenerated in accordance with said record by control document generating apparatus having access to said common data store; and wherein e) said system processes said regenerated control documents to regenerate said misprocessed group.
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