Regain control. The pilot test with the new ARM variable value stamps


After using different types of ATMs and variable value stamps, for more than 25 years, the Spanish Post - Correos, in late 2006, started to withdraw variable value stamps as a means of franking items which had been handed in at major post offices that were connected to the Iris postal network throughout the country

This process began a year earlier, in mid October 2005, with a trial in 3 post offices (Erandio, Tres Cantos and Vigo O.P.) in which Correos introduced a new mail admission system.
Through remote access of the Iris software and manual adjustment in the machines in the post offices, the stamp printing device in the Epelsa franking scales was locked out, so that the scales could not issue any type of stamp. Instead, all the inland letters brought to the post office were marked by a cancelling machine fitted with a special print impression. The postal mark and date were mechanically printed (using ink) directly onto the postal pieces, proving their receipt in that post office. The mark included the acronym AOSE (Admisión en Oficina Sin Estampilla - Admission in post office without stamp).

The second phase of this test was extended during December 2005 to 30 other post offices throughout the country. The criteria and internal operations in the post offices were identical to the previous experience, although in this second phase the admission of international mail items was allowed, and the postal mark printed on the letters was changed with the introduction of the text Franqueo pagado en oficina (Postage paid at post office).

(For more information, read article: The new ‘Postage Paid’ impression at the Spanish Post Offices, also published in VARIABLE 2
. Others articles, only Spanish version: Pruebas para un nuevo sistema de admisión de envíos - 1a. fase and 2a fase).

The last phase of this process began in November 2006. Province by province, new post offices were added to the new mail admission system. Following a remote access change in the software, the Iris application, supplemented by the manual adjustment in the Epelsa franking scales to inhibit the stamp printer, resulted in all the post offices of the province, connected to the postal application of Correos, to stop the issue of stamps on the predetermined date.
Since then the mail has been franked using a wide variety and range of Franqueo pagado en oficina (Postage Paid at post office) postal marks, applied using automated equipment and hand stamps. However, this change did not affect small post offices fitted with stand-alone franking scales, which have continued to issue variable value stamps, along with the (few) LF distributors still in service.

But this admission system, extremely simple in concept, involved a serious problem with the lack of control on admission. Despite the more or less complex methods of supervision that some post offices had attempted to implement, the fact is that there was no method of controlling or verifying that the postage tariff had been paid, on any postal item brought to a post office, with no previous franking and entering the postal network. Any control is left to the goodwill of postal staff behind the counter. Put another way, an employee may accept postal items into the postal system without paying the postage.
It is really surprising that one of the reasons, Correos argued, for the implementation of the mail admission system using Postage paid postal marks, was because of the lack of control in the variable value stamp (ATMs) issues, and instead they proposed another option whose main characteristic is precisely the absolute lack of control ...

(Read also: The keys to understand the removal of ATMs at the Spanish post offices >, published in VARIABLE 3).

Regain control. The Correos tender

The reaction to this serious problem was swift. After studying various proposals, Correos launched a tender in September 2009 for the purchase of 69 peripheral scales connected to the Iris system. The big news was that these new scales should include, again, a label printer, and in the tender documents, in addition to the technical characteristics of the scales, there was also specified the characteristics of the new 'etiquetas', the new variable value stamps. The objective was to regain control.

The tender was awarded in December 2009 to the Spanish company Grupo Epelsa S.L., manufacturer of all scales and weighing equipment currently used by Correos.
The scale is the new Epelsa DLT-ARM, a development of the previous DL-Iris/Postal and DLI balances. The machine is made up of a scale, a high resolution (8 dots/mm) thermal label printer, a thermal receipt printer, a keyboard and, at the top, a double sided swivelling readout to show the information to both the clerk and the customer.
The scale can work autonomously, by programming the keyboard. In this case, the machine calculates the postal rate, based on weight, destination and shipment type. But, in addition, the DLT-ARM can also be linked to Iris, through a PC. In this case it is the Iris system that supplies the tariff information to the scale and prints the label and receipt.
In addition, the model enables communication via an RS232 serial channel and Ethernet connection, which provides better connectivity, speed and security in communication.

According to the tender specifications, the new balances have to issue 57 mm. wide variable value stamps, including all information on the postage stamp, plus a two-dimensional matrix barcode or Data matrix. The scales also must have the ability to print labels with code 128. The high resolution imprint is of a good quality

All the information included can be seen in the test label (at the left). One can see the Correos logo, 2 lines with the shipment type and possible added values, plus the code and the name of the post office where the balance is installed, and the Epelsa balance number and a numeric print out of stamps issued. On the right, the 2D Data matrix code, along with the date and time of issue, and the face value or postage paid.

The 2D Data matrix code, similar to the code printed by the digital franking machines *, is made up of 2 arrays of dots and all the information of the stamp is repeat in encrypted format.

(* More information on digital franking, see article >>>, also published in VARIABLE 8).

The pilot test with the new ARM variable value stamps

While the system has been adequately tested experimentally, Correos decided to run a trial in post offices, in order to evaluate, in a real environment, the smooth running of the new DLT-ARM scales, as the new mail admission and franking system using variable value stamps.

The 2 selected post offices were the Badajoz main post office (left picture) and the Don Benito post office (below), both in the same province.

All the scales installed in both post offices were replaced on March 2nd 2010 by the new Epelsa DLT-ARM, and the pilot test began on March 3rd, with the issue of the first variable value stamps.

During the first day of issue, and up to the date of writing this article, in the pilot test, the scales only issued variable value stamps for both normal and urgent ordinary mail.

A strip with 2 ARM stamps, issued on the first day at the Badajoz post office, can be seen in the left picture. The information includes the shipment type (CARTA ORDINARIA - ordinary letter), the post office code and name (0600010-BADAJOZ OP), the Epelsa scale number (EP000003) and the counter for all stamps issued (0000048 and 0000049, respectively). At the right, the date and time of issue, and the face value (0.34 €).

The ARM stamps, for urgent ordinary mail, includes the text CARTAS URGENTES (Urgent letters) and the corresponding face value.

The new ARM variable value stamps are printed on white thermal self-adhesive labels, size 57 x 27 mm., on a roll of waxed paper, with a space of 4 mm. between labels.

Like the Epelsa DL-Iris/Postal franking scales, these balances also incorporate a security system that cancels with vertical lines, printing the blank labels issued at the start, or after certain operations, and can also issue adjust labels to verify the printing system.

A total of 10 Epelsa DLT-ARM scales were installed for the pilot test, 7 in Badajoz and 3 in Don Benito.
During the first day of issue in Badajoz, stamps were only issued from 4 scales (numbers EP000003 -top pictures-, EP000010, EP000012, and EP000013), all located at the mail admission counters. The other 3 machines have the numbers EP000004, EP000005, and EP000007.

The Epelsa DLT-ARM scales installed in the Don Benito post office are numbered EP000008, EP000009, and EP000011.

The new variable value stamps type ARM are NOT ATMs. They include the date of issue and are solely for the immediate franking of mail pieces accepted by the post office. So it is not possible to buy this type of stamp for later use, and they do not require a postmark.

The most common face values correspond with the current postal tariffs, although it is possible to obtain stamps with lower face values as they can be issued as a supplementary franking, like the example showed in the pictures.

The receipts issued by DLT-ARM balances, managed through the Iris postal application, are identical to those issued by other models of scales in service in other Spanish post offices.

While new Epelsa DLT-ARM balances are fully compatible with all the current scales in service, because of their ability to issue variable value stamps, Correos will probably decide to install the 69 machines in a few post offices, removing the previous scales and filling up the equipment with the new ones, without mixing with other models.

(To be continued ...)

Notes. This article will be also published in the April issue of our quarterly publication (VARIABLE 16).
A personal first day cover of this issue was mailed to all ATEEME members.

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This page was created in March 8th 2010, and last updated:  12.03.10 . English edition rewritten by S. Goodman (12.3.2010)