Mitigating Risk in the Paper Supply Chain

By Elizabeth Gooding / Published:

Recently I posted about challenges in the inkjet paper supply, increased lead times for stock and the shortage of drivers for delivery trucks. All of these factors are going to test your paper qualification and sourcing policies. You will need to test more papers, track them carefully and ensure that your receiving dock runs like a NASCAR pit stop.

picture of paper roll with 16 week lead time

Just because you need to go fast doesn’t mean that you need to be any less careful. Now is a good time to review your paper management policies to see if you are ready to take on more without sacrificing quality. Here are some things to think about:

Do you need to expand your standard papers?

With delivery lead times of up to 16 weeks, and larger companies hoarding paper, can you count on having the supply of your standard papers without taking on more inventory than you want to carry? Taking the time to linearize, test and approve additional stocks can be expensive in the short-term but could give you more buying flexibility in the current, volatile market.

Can you qualify papers quickly?

Beyond the process of testing papers on the inkjet device(s) there is the process of getting the papers approved internally and by clients. The more measurable the process is, the more easily it can go through the process. Potentially, you can by-pass physical reviews with some stakeholders and clients if the new paper is within previously agreed tolerances for paper LAB values, smoothness/roughness, caliper and ability to meet gamut, color density and strike-through targets when printed on, for instance. Any paper that passes print quality tests also needs to be qualified through finishing equipment. It ain’t done until it’s finished.

Managing a database of papers that have been tested and approved or rejected is important to an efficient process. This includes tracking metrics by paper, down to the specific TAPPI  label tested. Run numbers and labels of test paper should always be maintained. We highly recommend that you digitally capture all your labels for tracking purposes.

How can you Mitigate Risk?

Keep in mind that changes to the inkjet paper can have an impact on legacy media programs in mixed platform environments. Paper decisions need to be made holistically based on the overall buying strategy and vendor relationships.

When considering new mills, merchants and papers, make sure to fully evaluate supply chain risks. Are there political risks in the areas you are ordering from? Lead time issues? Financial stability concerns? Do you know what the production capacity is for the papers you want?

Can you get the Paper in the Door?

Once you find a paper you like and a supplier you can depend on, there is still the matter of the trucking shortage. This is not likely to change any time soon. Drivers are in a position to refuse certain routes if customers continually keep them waiting to make their deliveries.

  • Use effective signage to make sure that drivers can get someone to the dock quickly if it is not staffed at all times.
  • Train receiving personnel to quickly perform quality checks for things like damaged rolls or pallets
  • Automate any aspect of receiving and inventory tracking that you possibly can to get the drivers on their way – or they may not come back. Not kidding.

Effective paper sourcing and management is going to be a competitive factor for the foreseeable future. Some companies will manage by carrying additional inventories which only places further strain on the supply. Plan ahead or it will cost you dearly.

We are constantly updating papers in our Paper Finder to help you on your way. Of course we are not tracking every offset grade that has been cleared for an inkjet device (but we are trying!) If you are using a paper we don’t have listed, we would love to hear about it. If Paper Finder helps you find new media that works for you, we’d love to hear about that too.

About the Author

Elizabeth Gooding


Elizabeth is the Editor and Co-founder of Inkjet Insight. She has a rare ability to see print related issues from many perspectives. She has managed creative teams on complex design projects, selected outsourcers for major brands and helped print organizations to retool operations, focus their market positioning and educate sales teams to accelerate growth. She works with a team of top analysts to translate experiences into tools, data and content to help print organizations evaluate the potential of inkjet, optimize their operations and grow pages profitably. She is a founding member of the Inkjet Summit advisory board, the co-author of an award-winning book on designing for inkjet and a curious consultant constantly seeking innovative ways to drive new pages onto inkjet presses.

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