After revising tabbing specifications for booklets, the USPS promised that they would review the specifications for folded self mailers (FSM's). They are set to deliver on that promise with publication of recommendations at the beginning of next year. As a part of the process, the folks who are in charge of generating these specifications sponsored a webinar for industry invitees and study participants. I represented ACCUFAST and was among the few (perhaps the only) manufacturers in the audience.
The USPS staff solicited self mailers of all different forms and types from the direct marketing industry. They then sorted these pieces into categories and tested them on the mail processing machines. The idea of the testing was to use real market examples to set standards for each category based on jam statistics.
There are apparently a set of production requirements for machine sorting productivity based on pieces per hour. Each category of mail was tested against these criteria and general specifications were generated. The process of generating specifications was based on a statistical analysis of the group's performance in the machines.
Three mail piece criteria were analyzed, length, height and weight.
The results mirror common sense. If you have a long, flimsy trifold piece it will jam more readily than a shorter, stiffer one. If you have a thick, stiff piece, it will jam more readily than a more flexible one. Tall pieces get stuck more readily than shorter ones. The resultant proposals generally specify a thicker minimum paper weight, a shorter piece and increased tab effectiveness. Thick pieces stress the tabs more than thin ones and need more strength to be held closed during processing. Edge tabs work best, but half inch (or more) glue strips are better. The critical surfaces of the piece are the lead edge (the post office sorters face the mail first then run it standing up from left to right), the trail edge and the bottom.
A quick general summary:
Both edge and top tabbing will be allowed.
Thicker pieces will get more and bigger tabs.
Thin, flimsy pieces will be gone.
Pieces will be shorter.
Keep your mailings simple. If you end up with a thick, heavy piece, you'll have to close it with 1.5 (or maybe 2.0) inch tabs which will drive up costs and down opening rates.
Get rid of flimsy 20lb. trifold mailers. Switch to 28 lb stock and edge tab.
No tabs on the bottom of the piece.
Make sure that the pieces aren't stuck together. Watch for sticky coatings.
There will be a great deal of discussion around the fringes of the proposed regulations. The core of the proposals is pretty simple. Tri fold and quarter fold self mailers should be prepared as simply as possible and may be closed with a pair of I inch edge or top tabs. If things get heavier with inserts, then additional and/or larger tabs will be needed. I'm thinking mainly about a multiple page quarter fold that starts to look like a booklet without the staples. That one will be treated like a booklet with three 1.5 inch tabs. If you are running thin (20 - 24 lb paper) single sheet trifolds, switch up to 28 lbs. stock and edge or top tab.
Because we're at a stage of review prior to the publishing of the recommendations (which will then get a further review for about a year), I don't want to distribute the recommendations themselves as they will probably change. I'm giving you the highlights as they pertain to tab size and placement as well as recommendations based on my level of safety. I'm describing the middle of the road mailing. When you get to the edge, over by the ditch, things will be harder. Stay tuned.