Barcodes, barcodes, barcodes – they are everywhere you look these days. Especially in the mailing industry. You really can’t even talk about mailing without the word “barcode” slipping into the conversation. In fact, we see and talk about all these barcodes so much, we sometimes forget exactly what data is in those barcodes and what the barcodes are used for.
IM Piece Barcode
The first requirement for Full-Service is to place a unique barcode on the individual mailpieces. Even if you don’t claim any Full-Service discounts, you still need to print the Intelligent Mail®barcode on your mailpieces in order to claim any automation discounts. Due to the various types of processing equipment used by the USPS® to sort different types of mail, the barcode for Letter and Flat-sized mail (IMb) is different than the barcode for parcel size mail (IMpb).
Mailpiece Barcode for Letters and Flats
The Intelligent Mail barcode for Letters and Flats consists of 65 bars, which represent 31 characters of data. The data consists of a 20-character “Tracking Code” and an 11-character “Routing Code.” The Tracking Code is further broken down into these 4 components:
The Routing Code is the ZIP Code of the addressee on the mailpiece. It may consist of just the 5-digit ZIP code or it may also include the ZIP + 4 code and Delivery Point code.
Full-Service requires that mailpieces have unique barcodes, and this uniqueness must be maintained for a period of at least 45 days from the date of mailing as presented on the postage statement. The combination of the STID, Mailer ID and Serial Number (shown below) are used to determine the uniqueness.
Intelligent Mail Package Barcode
The Intelligent Mail Package Barcode (IMpb) can vary in length, and may consist of 20, 26, 30 or 34 characters of data. Like the barcode for Letters and Flats, the Package barcode consists of Routing Information and Tracking Information. The Routing Information is further broken down into these 2 components:
The Tracking Information is broken down into these 5 components:
For Packages, the barcodes must remain unique for a period of 180 days from the date of mailing.
Intelligent Mail Container Barcode
Full-Service also requires that the labels for handling units (trays, sacks) and containers (pallets, Gaylords, APC’s, OTR’s, etc.) contain a unique barcode as well.
(for handling units, such as mail sacks or mail trays)
The tray barcodes consist of a 24-digit data string with the following 6 components:
(for containers such as pallets, Gaylords,
Like the Intelligent Mail piece barcodes, these handling unit and container barcodes must maintain their uniqueness for a period of at least 45 days from the date of mailing.
So, how do you determine which Mailer ID to use in all of these barcodes? The answer is – it depends. Keep in mind that any entity in the mailing supply chain may have multiple Mailer ID’s, and that the Mailer ID is a key component of managing the uniqueness of the barcodes. For this reason, it is important to use careful planning when determining which Mailer ID to use in the barcodes. You also need to keep in mind who you want to receive the data for any services that you are requesting for the mailing. For example, if you are using Address Correction Services, the Mailer ID on the mailpiece barcode needs to be that of the entity that will receive the ACS data from the USPS. Likewise, if you are using IMb Tracing, the Mailer ID on the mailpiece barcode needs to be that of the entity that you want to receive the tracking data.
For the handling unit and container barcodes, you may elect to use the Mailer ID of the mail owner or the mail preparer.
What about managing the uniqueness? There are many different strategies for managing the uniqueness of the barcodes. Some mailers use different Mailer IDs for different classes of mail, or for different mail service providers. Others use a single Mailer ID and then manage the uniqueness using defined ranges of serial numbers for different projects or mail service providers. Regardless of the strategy, it will require a complex database to manage these barcodes. There are many presort software providers who offer means to manage the barcode uniqueness, as well as many third-party service providers, so you don’t need to try to manage this on your own. Post-presort software solutions, such as Window Book’s DAT-MAIL, can help you manage the uniqueness for handling tray and container barcodes.
The USPS offers a wealth of specification documents for the various barcodes, as well as information on the Mailer ID. Window Book offers some great resources for mailers to help manage uniqueness of your handling unit and container barcodes.
Window Book can help you manage barcode uniqueness for handling units and containers in your mailing operation and automate your processes using our software and service solutions.