The Industrial Internet Meets… the Mail-Sorting Machine

Pitney Bowes is using GE's Predix software to make data from its mail-handling and -sorting machinery more accessible.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 15, 2015

The Internet of Things does not exist only in the digital world, and the technology that goes into paper mail is not as simple as one might imagine. That's why Pitney Bowes, a manufacturer of machines for sorting and handling mail, announced Tuesday that it is partnering with General Electric. Leveraging GE's Predix software, designed specifically for industrial IoT applications, the firms are collaborating on a set of applications for Pitney Bowes' enterprise business customers.

Pitney Bowes sells mail-processing equipment to a range of customers, from the United States Postal Service to small and midsize businesses and very large enterprises. The fruits of its partnership with GE will initially be directed toward those enterprise customers and the service bureaus that provide them with mailing services. Roughly a quarter of Pitney Bowes' $4 billion in annual revenue is generated through the sales of mailing machines (systems that collate and insert printed paper materials into envelopes) and presorting services to large enterprises, such as banks, telecommunication firms and companies in the health-care industry, says Roger Pilc, Pitney Bowes' chief innovation officer.

Pitney Bowes' Roger Pilc
The software and services that Pitney Bowes supplies to those customers are also a significant part of the firm's business, and are tied to the cameras and other sensors built into its hardware, which must perform with exacting precision while sorting and inserting up to 26,000 documents an hour.

"Think of your bank statement," explains Carol Wallace, Pitney Bowes' director of global media relations. "We have to ensure that the right customer's banking information goes into the right envelope—each page of the statement has a UPC code, which the cameras capture, and this is associated with the direct marketing pieces that each customer is supposed to get. Once everything is in the envelope, the envelope is weighed to ensure it only contains what is should contain. So there is a lot of information that the machines are already collecting."

In addition to all of this data, a mail-sorting machine tracks such metrics as the percentage of time it is up and producing inserted letters, or the quantity and nature of alarms that are triggered related to a problem, such as paper jams.

Until now, Pilc explains, that information has been sitting in silos at the customer sites. "That data wasn't [easily] harvestable until we started working with GE," he states. "It was not accessible via the cloud, which means it was not easy for a field service technician to access it prior to arriving at a customer's location. Therefore, we weren't getting the degree of benefits [associated with that data collection] that is possible with today's technology."

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