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The Real Benefits of Piece Level Tracking from Printing to Mail

March 31, 2010
Piece level document tracking was first introduced nearly 20 years ago. The systems at that time were comprised of very expensive reading devices, typically line scan cameras, and high speed computers. These old systems were difficult to set up and configure and were not very reliable. The cameras required very bright near white light to function and changes in paper brightness and ambient light required a new configuration. Slight changes in print quality or registration would create frequent misreads which would stop or slow the print process and negate their value. These issues combined with the system investment turned many a print production manager away from deploying piece level tracking.

However, today many markets are requiring piece level tracking. HIPAA for a patient’s medical information, Sarbanes Oxley for financial information and Transpromo related document production and fulfillment nearly mandate that print production facilities must deploy industry best practices. Piece level tracking guarantees that all critical client documents are printed, combined into a proper packet and mailed.

The technology has advanced significantly since the 1990’s. Expensive line scan cameras are no longer required. In their place inexpensive barcode readers and CCD cameras are used that enjoy exceptional reading accuracy, repeatability and useful life and are a breeze to install and set up. Gone also are the high powered computers that were needed to process the line scan cameras data being replaced with standard off-the-shelf computers with standard Microsoft operating systems. Overall the investment required has fallen by 65% to 70% making a piece level tracking system affordable to almost every print mail house.

So, how does a piece level tracking system work?

To provide 100% end-to-end print production tracking of every individual printed piece, at every stage in the production process, one needs to track the piece from print to mail. This requires that a reading device be placed on the output of the printer, on the output of the finishing device and the output of the inserter. If there are several pieces, unique and/or generic, being combined into a packet one more reader may be required at that point.

Print file data is parsed and sent as an electronic job ticket to the automated production tracking system. This would include the job, the number of pieces, service level information, etc. As the documents leave the printer, the tracking system logs that they have been printed with a date and time stamp that is archived for both real time and future reporting. The printed documents may then be sent to a single or multiple finishing stations which have reading stations as well. As the documents pass through finishing, each document is tracked and logged with a time and date stamp. So to, as the documents flow through the inserting process each document is read and logged with date and time stamp. Thus, complete reconciliation of the end to end print-finish-mail production process can be done automatically and with the highest degree of accuracy. Error prone manual audits are replaced with dedicated technology systems.


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