Features to Look for in a Postage Meter: Machine Speed, Envelope Feeding/Sealing, Weight Scales, Etc.
Postage meters are common equipment found in most companies spending at least $50 per month on postage. At their basic level, these machines do the same thing: select the appropriate amount of postage based on weight and mail class, and then apply the postage to the item via an imprint known as indicia.
If that were all postage machines did, there would be a single model offered by manufacturers. In practice, these systems have a broad range of capabilities depending on the individual company's needs and the amount of mail they go through in a given month or day.
Smaller companies with low-volume postage needs do fine with the basic machine that processes anywhere from 15 to 45 letters per minute. As volumes increase, users want machines with more advanced features designed to increase productivity and quickly process thousands of pieces every hour.
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Pricing varies according to features and add-ons. When looking for the right machine, consider which features belong on the have-to-have list, which are nice-to-have, and which ones add extra cost but that you aren't likely to use. Make sure to talk to the people who actually use the postage meter to help determine which features are worth the extra cost.
What Are Postage Machine Processing Speeds?
Speed tells you how many pieces a unit processes per minute or hour. Common abbreviations include PPM (pieces per minute) and LPM (letters per minute). Per hour speeds are typically provided only for high-volume units that knock out 15,000 pieces or more in an hour.
Smaller postage meters are designed for organizations with lower volume needs. Typically, these units have processing speeds between 15 and 45 letters per minute.
Mid-sized units typically range from around 60 LPM to 150 pieces per minute. You start to see automatic feeders with the higher range mid-volume postage meters, and may even see some that allow you to process multiple sizes, weights, and shapes in a single batch. These are the speeds preferred by companies sending anywhere between 100 and 1,000 pieces of mail every month, making them ideal for organizations that occasionally send promotional materials, such as sales offices.
You typically find high-volume postage meters in busy mailrooms. These are the speediest units, working through up to 300 pieces per minute or 25,000 per hour. Speeds vary based on whether you use batch features (all pieces have similar weight and size), or features such as weigh-as-you-go, which typically slows processing speed by about 20 percent.
Postage Machine Feeders and Package Size
The machine's feeder type helps determine its processing speed and the type of items it can process. Manual feeders are common on low-volume units and the smaller mid-volume machines. Once you add an automatic feeder, processing speed increases dramatically; so does price.
The feeder also dictates the maximum thickness of the items. That doesn't mean that you can only apply postage to items fitting within those guidelines. It just means that you have to use labels instead of running the item itself through the postage meter. Low volume machines typically top out at around 1/4" thickness, with the higher volume units maxing out at 5/8".
A manual feed postage meter requires the operator to place the item in position before the machine pulls it through and prints the indicia onto the item. This, obviously, requires the operator to be present throughout the process, instead of loading a stack of mail and walking away to work on another task. Unless your office performs frequent bulk mailings, this shouldn't present an issue. When trying to decide between manual and automatic feeding, consider how many bulk mailings your organization sends to determine the potential savings in productivity.
If you have a busy mailroom or regularly process bulk mailings, you'll likely decide that the extra cost of an automatic feeder is worth it thanks to the increased productivity. With an automatic feeder, the operator simply places the mail on the platform (typically up to a certain height, such as 3"), makes the appropriate menu choices, and then lets the machine do the rest. Just how much freedom the automatic feeder provides varies by machine. Some allow you to preload different sizes and types of mail while others need the operator to do a presort and only load envelopes of the same size and weight class. The first option is the weigh-as-you-go choice that slows down the processing speed. Of course, it also removes the presort step, so it still saves time.
The USPS determines how much postage a package requires based on its size, how much it weighs, and the postal class, charging per ounce. For example, as of June 2017, a first class stamp for a letter up to 6-1/8" tall and 11-1/2" wide, up to 1/4" thick, and weighing one ounce or less costs $0.49 (the price for metered mail drops to $0.46).
Not all postage meters include an integrated scale, and some use a separate scale. When the meter does have a built-in scale, the scale sends the weight data to the meter, which then prints the correct postage. If the scale is separate, the user enters the weight by hand.
Of course, the value of an integrated scale is obvious for organizations sending out mass and bulk mailings. However, some large mailrooms prefer a separate scale that also allows them to weigh items sent through other platforms, such as UPS and FedEx. On the other end of the spectrum, businesses whose mailings center on first class letters and flat rate packages do just fine with a separate scale.
Additional Postage Machine Features
Postage meter manufacturers offer a variety of extra features. Some of these are fairly common, such as envelope sealers, while others are part of a mailing system and only used by high-volume mailrooms, such as inserters and sorters.
Look carefully at the cost of the feature and what you expect it to do for your organization's productivity. Some of these items pay for themselves due to significant increases in productivity, whereas other are great in theory but not practical for your needs. In other words, as much as you like the idea of a machine that processes 300 letters a minute of varying sizes and weights, if single-page invoices comprise 95 percent of your sent mail, you don't really need that capability.
Envelope sealers are one the more common "extras" found on postage meters. They do offer big time savings, especially for organizations sending a lot of mail. The interesting thing is that you find this feature on low-volume machines as well.
Sealers work well, but they also tend to be the first thing that stops working. This doesn't affect the accuracy of the postage meter, or keep it from performing its main function. Even though the sealer is prone to malfunction, it's also easy to guard against that. Regular maintenance – cleaning the brushes and sponges – keeps your sealer working properly. If your unit has an automatic feeder and processes a large volume of mail, take extra care with regular maintenance. Finally, look for a postage machine that makes getting to the sealer, and therefore performing said maintenance, easy.
The computer interface allows you to perform a whole host of "make your life easier" functions. Track packages, update postage rates, upload databases to print addresses and create repeat mail settings, run reports, and loads more. Of course, these capabilities vary widely depending on the individual unit. For example, most low-volume units do not allow address printing. As with all of the other options, consider which items save you the most time and money.
Address Labeling Capabilities
Within the computer interface world, the ability to print addresses is the option most users find invaluable, so it gets its own section.
When sending bulk or mass mailings, being able to print the address and postage onto a stuffed, blank envelope in a single step is a huge timesaver, especially in offices where employees share printers. These shared printers make printing onto envelopes a challenge at best – there seems to always be at least one envelope with someone's budget spreadsheet printed on it.
Many postage meters also allow you to print the return address, which means you no longer need to buy letterhead envelopes. Or, you can add department and other sender information. There really are a lot of options, which is why this is one of the more popular computer interface options.
In addition to printing addresses, these postage meters often include the ability to print messages on your envelopes. Print your logo, company slogan, promotion, or whatever you like, even graphic designs.
Mass Mailing Postal System Extras
If you ship promotional materials and other bulk items, many manufacturers offer add-ons that turn your mailroom into a one-stop shop.
Like postage meters, inserters are classified by volume. They promise to help you save loads of time by folding, inserting, and sealing your mailers. Processing speeds range from around 1,000 pieces per hour to 26,000 pieces per hour.
Sorters let you take advantage of the best postage rate discounts, since the post office offers great discounts to businesses performing the sorting step on their behalf. Processing speeds range from around 2,000 pieces per hour to 45,000 pieces.
Obviously, these features aren't for everyone; they're designed for organizations mailing thousands of items each day. If you fall in that category, look for a dealer who offers entire mail systems, not just the postage meter.
Again, with all of these features, the most important thing is a realistic look at what your business needs and which features offer the greatest return on investment.