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Q and A: Supply Chain Issues

What is causing supply chain issues in the print industry?

Rich: I think about the events of the past two years, especially with how it has affected paper. We had mass shutdowns in 2020 and this strongly affected the paper goods production when people ran out of essential paper products. I think a lot of the producers of raw materials were focused on those consumables over print paper.

Another thing that could be impacting supply chain issues is the transportation backlog and import backlog as well. We get a lot of paper in the US from overseas, especially unique paper. If it’s stuck in a harbor or waiting to be unloaded, it’s ultimately going to be stuck on a backlog to get through the rest of the supply chain. This is causing a massive hold up for commercial printers waiting to get their supply.

The third thing that has come about is the war in Ukraine. That part of eastern Europe has a lot of paper industry and a lot of the resources come from there. While we cannot predict how long the war will last, we are likely to see some supply chain shortage due to the conflict.

What materials are a byproduct of the supply chain issues?

First and foremost, paper and anything that uses paper. As well as things like lumber which affects supplies such as 2×4’s, construction materials, etc. A lot of the pulp materials for paper come from those products, thus if they have supply issues, printed goods have supply issues. If there is no wood supply, then there is no excess material for paper or pulp-based products. Top that with transportation lags and you can see why many businesses are struggling to get their supply in a timely manner. One other common print product, ink, could be impacted with current petroleum problems down the road.

How are brokers/print buyers dealing with this issue?

 They are getting out of their comfort zone. They are broadening their scope of vendors and suppliers. Before this shortage crisis, you could specify any type of paper stock, style, etc. and you could get it. Now brokers and print shops worry about getting paper, period. They must look at possible alternatives. There is always an alternate product over your preferred product, it’s up to companies to make that decision to change their print products they provide. And the rush jobs are becoming harder as well, companies need to plan and get orders placed farther in advance.

How does procurement software ease these issues brokers and vendors are facing?

 First, it helps you get all the print job details together in one place. It allows you to see all of the big picture but through all of the little bits and pieces that make up the job. This way you don’t forget about your paper or scheduling. Procurement software also allows you to be nimbler and more adaptive because you can build into your specifications details like your preferences for alternate stocks or inks. That can help your vendors with their pricing so that even if they can’t get you the main preference, they can have an idea of where you are going for and provide alternative suggestions and solutions. It can also help you shift to additional or other vendors when you are faced with lack of supply from your main vendor of choice.

How long can we expect this to last?

 I would estimate that if it’s not one thing missing in the supply chain, it’ll be another for a while. Especially in today’s economy. While hopefully in the next year or two we should be getting back into the norm with the pandemic, we should hopefully see prices go down and availability rise. The smart print buyer or broker would take this situation and turn it into a chance to become more organized with tools and workflows to improve workplace flexibility. I highly recommend procurement software for the long term. It is important to become more and more flexible as time goes on and open the chance to have options for the future.

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