Eii’s Innovative Products Help Mailers Achieve Postal Discounts
LAFAYETTE, IN — Engineering Innovation Inc. (Eii) is excited to be celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. Officially formed on September 12, 2006, COO Don Caddy likes to tell the story that they deliberately waited a day to avoid launching on 9-11 for good luck.
The company started with just two employees, Caddy (pictured above right) and Adam Fleming (pictured above left), both of whom had come from the Lafayette-based company MAILCode. MAILcode had moved to Danbury, CT by parent company Pitney Bowes a few months earlier. The two engineers, while having spent most of their careers in mail automation technology, did not want to relocate and determined to utilize their experience right in Lafayette.
Teaming up with Ron Robbin and Ron Welton, who owned a local presort and letter shop, Caddy and Fleming began exploring how they might put some ideas they had to work. As coincidence would have it, the U.S. Postal Service shortly thereafter announced some major changes in pricing with the introduction of “shape-based” rates. Most notably affected were First Class flats; retail pricing was to shoot up dramatically, but presorting discounts were going up as well. Mailers would be able to get about a 40-cent discount for a five-digit sort.
Seeing an opportunity to utilize the USPS bundle-based rules in order to get better discounts for customers, the Eii team went to work on a solution. While bundle-based processing resulted in 9-fold decrease in qualification requirements, it was traditionally difficult to process. They designed a low cost flat sorter and new processing paradigm that Presorters could use to get into the business. The answer was the EZ Flats solution that Eii introduced at the 2007 National Postal Forum.
The key to EZ Flats was moving in the opposite direction that the mail automation industry had been heading in for years. Letter and flats sorters kept getting faster, but also more expensive. Caddy and Fleming devised an approach recognizing that throwing more automation at a problem isn’t always the answer. Sometimes people handle tasks better than machines.
For example, instead of needing a multitude of automated sorting bins, EZ Flats utilized a few automated bins in combination with uniquely designed, L-shaped Sorting Territories. OCR technology was put into play to read addresses for delivery point validation, and applying the sorting location on the manifesting label. This made sorting quick and easy.
Another key component was the EZ Flats unique Dynamic Sort methodology that enabled real-time parallel flats processing by dynamically defining the zip breaks to the maximum discount. This eliminated the need for multiple passes on the machine.
EZ Flats put Eii on the map and within a couple of years, most Presorters in the country had one. In 2010 Eii decided to branch out into the world of parcels. At that time the U.S. Postal Service was also beginning to focus on the parcel sector given the precipitous decline in letter volumes that had started in 2006 and a rapid increase in parcels with the growth of eCommerce. Eii became a Business Alliances Partner with USPS and began working with Presorters to diversify as well.
Eii recognized that Priority Mail was a reasonable shipping alternative, especially for packages in the lower weights, but also if you shipped with a new Priority Mail product called Cubic with pricing based on the size or cubic dimensions of the package.
The problem was you needed 150,000 Cubic parcels a year to qualify. Eii’s arrangement with USPS was to bring the presort industry under a single umbrella so that individual companies would be exempt from the volume requirements, and therefore have a pricing incentive to enter the parcel market. This resulted in new opportunities for the industry and increased parcel volumes for USPS.
Presorters also needed a versatile parcel processing solution to process parcels. Eii provided this with its introduction of the Heavyweight Champ. The Champ featured a differential weighing scale; the solution enabled quick processing of all of the different types of Priority Mail, including Cubic – but also other key USPS parcel classes, like First Class Packages and Bound Printed Matter – on the fly. The Champ was soon the solution of choice in the Presorter industry for handling parcels.
At about the same time, Eii introduced two additional platforms for the burgeoning parcel consolidator and fulfilment markets, EZ WorkDesk and EZ Parcels. Parcel consolidators quickly adopted these platforms as their solution to rapid parcel processing and IMpB compliance. In 2017, Eii developed the modular Chameleon solution to replace EZ-Parcel and will introduce the Chameleon at the 2017 NPF in May. In addition to the Chameleon, Eii is also looking forward excited to showing off its new LightSortTM solution at NPF.
Made up of modular sort-to-light racks, operators can rapidly scan a package barcode and the correct bin destination “lights up.” With LightSort, Eii is again proving that expensive automation is not always the optimal approach. LightSort leverages low cost technology to help operators do their job more quickly with greatly reduced errors.
Eii’s growth was consistent over the years. It now has its own 25,000 square feet manufacturing facility, more than 60 employees and 1,000 machines in the marketplace. The company is looking forward to continuing to bring innovation into the mailing and shipping markets in its second decade. — by Clark Cassell, Business Development Associate, Engineering Innovation Inc.