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Getting out of a paper jam

Jun 29, 2001 12:00 AM

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Sooner or later, most printers will find themselves confronting a paper emergency. What's the best way to extricate yourself from a paper jam? Carefully cultivated vendor relationships, combined with a little common sense, can go a long way.

If you're using a run-of-the-mill (so to speak) stock, your troubles may be few. “These days just about everything is available,” says Tom Hansen, vice president, marketing and publication papers, Bradner Smith & Co. (Elk Grove Village, IL), a national paper distributor. That is — if you are a sheetfed printer. “But specialty text grades can have longer lead times, especially if a unique color is required. Most jobs require white, smooth paper — whether coated or uncoated. The mills and merchants have recognized this and stock sufficient quantities. Most common colors are not a problem — but unique colors can be.”

Likewise, web printers encounter entirely different challenges in getting paper when they need it. “Web printers generally don't have the flexibility of quick delivery or the same variety of paper from a merchant,” says Hansen. “Bradner Smith, for example, does not stock any rolls other than specific customer inventory.”


Sheetfed printers can usually find 70-lb. and 80-lb. text and book stocks, and 65-lb. or 80-lb. coated and uncoated cover stocks readily available. “When you start looking for the fancy sheets, that's where you can get into trouble,” says Suzie Scholin, president of Scholin Brothers Printing Co. (St. Louis). “The special sized sheets or special finishes or colors are normally not stocked. They'll be a mill item and sometimes they aren't even sitting there. They're made to order. That doesn't happen overnight.”

“Paper merchants should have all of their A and B items available at all times,” says Daniel Dejan, national creative sales manager, Sappi Fine Paper (Westchester, IL). “The only stock that is not a Special Making Order (SMO) is either manufactured or finished — cut, slit, rolled — to a size specified by a printer that has figured out the optimum efficiencies and economics for a special project. Size, basis weight, pH, shade, even finish — surface gloss, silk, dull, matte — can be customized for a customer's particular needs. There are minimum quantities required and it will certainly require more time to manufacture to order.”


“We have a Printer Promise that guarantees our top 10 items in stock or we will substitute an alternative product or bring the product in from another region. These stock items are typically available the next day,” says David Ruff, coated Bristol's product manager, International Paper Co. (Memphis, TN). “The Carolina coated cover line also has a quick-turn program whereby up to truckload quantities of custom sizes will be sheeted and shipped within three to five days from one of our regional sheeting facilities. Large orders or unusual grades can be made on the paper machine, sheeted and shipped typically in three to five weeks.”

If a standard product won't do, the following tips may help.


First, know what is considered “rush,” experts say. The printers we talked to agree that most paper distributors consider next-day delivery normal or standard, while same-day delivery or pick-up is rush. The same holds true for some specialty papers, such as pressure-sensitive stocks.

“Standard turnaround time for pressure-sensitive stock products is less than 24 hours from the manufacturer, same day from the merchant's floor to the printer,” says Phil Egan, marketing manager, MACtac StarLiner pressure-sensitive paper (Stow, OH). “Most printers practice just-in-time inventory management and expect their partner suppliers to meet their paper needs. For custom or skid-packed product, standard turnaround time is now three to five days — down substantially from the two to three weeks typical about six years ago.”

“Most commercial printers place sheet orders today for delivery first thing the next morning. This is a standard order,” Hansen says. “In fact, evening delivery from an order during the day is not considered rush anymore. Rush would be getting the paper to the printer in one to three hours, depending on distance.”

“Order by late afternoon for delivery by morning the next day,” advises Dejan. “In many cases if the paper merchant is a large facility and they work closely with their core mills, 12-hour service is considered normal. Anything under 12 hours is a rush. If a printer is having a problem with a specific paper lot, replacement paper is rushed over, sometimes in less than three hours.”


Don't overlook the value of relationships. Build a good partnership with your distributor before you are in a crisis mode. If you have an existing relationship, ask for help when you're in a time crunch. “The sales reps are always willing to help you get it fast,” says Scholin.

“Nice customers get the best service,” says Gary Dickson, president, Dickson's, Inc. (Atlanta), a specialty printer. “Develop long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with your paper distributors.”

Jack Miller, director of marketing, Domtar Communication Papers (Montreal), urges printers to take a long-term view. “Support the mills and merchants who support you day in and day out. They'll be more likely to jump through hoops for you if you are a loyal customer rather than an opportunistic shopper.”

“The contacts and network one needs to ensure an adequate supply of paper are greater with web printers because web papers are in rolls, which usually require larger storage areas; and orders are also usually in larger quantities,” says Larry Wilson, president, Wilson Consulting Service (Arrowsic, ME). “Many merchants will write the order, send it to the mills and have the paper delivered directly to the printer. Merchants will inventory rolls that are targeted for specific end uses and for repeat customers, but roll inventory is usually held by the mills from which the merchant draws.”


How fast an order is delivered also depends on the size of the order, particularly if a sheet is especially popular. Generally, small- to medium-carton orders are shipped the quickest. Don't wait until the last minute to place high-volume orders. Printers that delay risk the order not being wholly in stock. However, “if high-volume orders are repeat orders, the merchant or mill will inventory the paper and make it available on demand,” says Wilson.

“Most merchants can have tens of thousands of pounds of key items in rolls, sheets/skids and cartons, which can be opened or broken for less-than-carton quantities,” says Dejan. “In this case, small quantities can be fulfilled very quickly. Large orders, which exceed the merchant's standard inventory levels, must be fulfilled either from the mill's regional distribution center or shipped directly from the mill to the printer. Larger quantities that exceed the normal merchant's inventory levels will take longer than those picked and packed from their floor.”

Speed also depends on whether or not the item is a standard item and stocking size. “If the mill has to produce the order, it is faster to get a high-volume order processed,” says Miller. “Typically you would not have to wait for other orders to be processed with the small-volume order and, therefore, you minimize delays. However, multiple truckloads may well exceed available inventories, forcing you into a make cycle. But a high-volume make should be quicker than a low-volume make, which may be subject to other orders — trim, accumulation to fill a run, etc.”


If your distributor is tapped out of the product you need, call distributors outside your area. Call the mill. “Even call your competitors — the friendly ones,” suggests Dickson.

Wilson agrees. “It is possible to ‘borrow’ paper from another printer or have a merchant ‘find’ paper either in their inventory, another merchant's inventory or from another printer. Each of these options requires the printer that is in a jam to have a solid working relationship with the merchants and the printing community. This relationship is developed over time and must be continually nurtured.”

Most papers are carried by more than one merchant, and usually there should be options available. “Always ask your merchant and/or your mill for a 24-hour service phone number in case of emergencies,” suggests Kris Bovay, manager, specification sales, North America, Domtar Communication Papers (Vancouver, BC).


If you find a paper outside your area, consider using traditional overnight delivery services, such as Federal Express or UPS, to get the paper faster. You may incur an extra delivery cost, but you won't be at the mercy of your distributor's delivery schedules.

“We frequently turn jobs around in two to five days,” says Scholin. “That doesn't leave as much time for bringing in paper from the mill like we used to do. The paper companies, however, have gotten much better at stocking sheets we use and overnighting papers from other cities — most sheets are available that way.”


Talk with your customer as you're quoting a job, so if the paper they want to use is a mill item, you leave plenty of time for ordering. Tell them upfront what those timelines are and how it could effect the deadline for the job. “There's nothing worse than all the prepress work being done and paper is not ready at the mill or is on back order. It's happened to all of us, and it's not a happy time,” says Scholin.

Common paper sources: merchants, mills and merchant/converters

There are three common sources for papers: merchants, mills and merchant/converters. Merchants offer a large variety of grades in flexible quantities, brand-name papers and quick local deliveries. Mills also provide brand-name papers as well as direct contact with the manufacturer and specification support. Merchant/converters offer large inventories in flexible sizes, but don't offer brand-name product — the paper is sold generically. Merchant/converters' sources may include excess printer inventories and mills.

If you need a specified brand of paper, a mill or merchant may be your best option. If, however, you have some latitude, a merchant/converter can be a cost-effective choice.

When evaluating a merchant/converter, consider the company's quality-control procedures, source of supply and complaint policies. Ask what quality checks are done and what records are kept — there should be a traceable process.

Regardless of whether you get your paper from a merchant, mill or merchant/converter, ask your paper supplier for their input on paper choice. They can help you identify the optimum size and best grade for a job, and ultimately, the best value.

Source: Roosevelt Paper (Mt. Laurel, NJ)

Overseas options

You won't necessarily get paper faster from a foreign mill, but you may get it cheaper. “We've seen an increase in the use of some foreign papers. Frankly, the U.S. mills need to get moving. They haven't invested anything lately and have closed more outdated mills than they've built,” says Suzie Scholin, Scholin Brothers Printing Co. (St. Louis).

“[Foreign] competition is fierce and pushes efficiencies from the North American manufacturing base,” agrees Kris Bovay, manager, specification sales, North America, Domtar Communication Papers (Vancouver, BC). “Foreign mills, however, by virtue of location, have limitations in terms of quick-turn service for production-making orders, after-sale technical support and inventory logistics.”

Adds Tom Hansen, vice president, marketing and publication papers, Bradner Smith & Company (Elk Grove Village, IL), “Foreign mills are having a major impact in the fine-paper industry. Coated sheets from Asia and Europe are here in significant numbers these days. The quality of these sheets is also better than a few years ago. This, coupled with aggressive pricing, has made it difficult for many North American free-sheet coated mills.”

“The increased supply puts downward pressure on pricing, which is not good for domestic mills, of course, but may not always be good for printers either,” submits Jack Miller, director of marketing, Domtar Communication Papers (Montreal). “If they need to scramble for overseas supplies in order to remain competitive, those overseas supplies may not be there when they are needed.”

Don't overlook potential production issues, cautions Brad Evans, senior research technician/lab coordinator, GATF (Sewickley, PA). “European imports in general use less fiber and double- or triple-coat the paper so the sheet is smooth and glossy for a high-quality look — but the paper can be less durable,” explains Evans. “So, while imports can be cheaper and thus more appealing to cost-conscious buyers, they should consider any potential quality trade-offs.”