If a pop-up warning message on a sorting machine screen recently prevented an operator from accidentally running the wrong sort plan, you can thank Jason Kreutzer and the Postal Service’s IdeaSMART program.
Kreutzer, an operations support specialist at the Des Moines, IA, Processing and Distribution Center, got the idea after analyzing a series of incidents that occurred on the plant’s automated letter sorting machines.
He noticed sort plan mismatch incidents would occasionally occur when operators, sometimes filling in for others on a break, would simply run a loaded sort program without double-checking to make sure it was the right one.
“For instance, an operator might think they are running Standard Mail because that’s what’s staged at the machine,” Kreutzer said. “But if he’s wrong and the wrong program is loaded, you have mail going to the wrong place, which ultimately delays mail processing and deliveries.”
Kreutzer’s idea offered a fail-safe: Once you loaded the sort program, a screen would pop up asking, “Are you sure you want to continue with this program?”
He submitted his suggestion to the Postal Service’s IdeaSMART program, which allows employees to offer ideas that could improve customer satisfaction, generate revenue, improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs.
Kreutzer’s proposed solution was evaluated by a team that included Amit Cholkar, technology development and applications director, and Yousri Bel Hadj, an engineering systems technology management associate.
“We have to think through the complete solution. We have to make sure a change does not have an adverse impact on other systems and processes. We make sure the idea is fixing the root cause and not just putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” Cholkar said.
Peer feedback indicated plants nationwide had experienced similar sort plan mismatch situations.
“Sort plan mismatch is a very common issue. If you start the wrong sort plan, you could wind up sending mail for Sacramento to New York. [Kreutzer’s solution] could very quickly alert operators that, for instance, before they went on break, they were running a different sort plan,” Bel Hadj said.
In order to implement the solution, the IdeaSMART team worked with the firm that writes the sorting machine software. When it was time to upgrade the software, Kreutzer’s proposal was included.
Overall, the process — from submitting the idea to implementation — took several months.
“It might take us a while, but we definitely want employees to send more ideas our way,” Bel Hadj said.
The pop-up warning message, which is active on 960 sorting machines at 40 sites, will be deployed nationally later in the year. It is expected to significantly reduce sort plan mismatch incidents — and it all started with Kreutzer’s idea.
“I’m pretty proud,” he said.
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