• The adoption of today’s digital production presses supports the efforts of lean manufacturing while offering flexibility and increased customer satisfaction.
  • Careful consideration of the applications you print, the markets you serve, and your organizational needs impact how you design your supply chain management system.
  • While often mislabeled as outsourcing, “friendshoring” and “nearshoring” are practices that can serve as cooperative frameworks to meet common needs and goals.

By Karen Kimerer


Lean manufacturing is a well-recognized and powerful practice that can help optimize productivity and reduce waste. The successful implementation of lean principles requires continuous adaptation to technological advancements. Forward-thinking print service providers (PSPs) continue to invest in digital print production technology, enabling them to quickly respond to changing customer demands without costly set-up times and excessive waste.

Recent strains in supply chain management challenged even the most well-organized organizations to move from Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory management—which is an important component of lean manufacturing—to Just-in-Case (JIC) inventory practices. This shift meant that many PSPs invested significantly in paper and other materials to avoid scarcity. Despite the gradual improvements in our industry's supply chain, problems still exist. Fortunately, PSPs can overcome these problems by refining their supply chain to address the current business climate.

Digital Makes the Difference

At its core, lean manufacturing focuses on eliminating waste, improving process flow, and maximizing customer value. The change in customer requirements continues to force PSPs to streamline operations, reduce volumes of inventory, and enhance productivity. The adoption of today’s digital production presses supports the efforts of lean manufacturing while offering flexibility and increased customer satisfaction.

As noted earlier, JIT inventory management is a key component of lean manufacturing. In simple terms, JIT is a production and inventory management strategy that aims to produce and deliver products at the exact time of need. This is a perfect match to the digital value proposition. JIT optimizes print operations by focusing on shorter lead times and synchronizing production with customer demand. Lean manufacturing and a successful JIT inventory management program depend largely on the organization's supply chain. PSPs of all sizes recognize the importance of focusing on their supply chains.

Supply Chain Management

Supply chains have always been vulnerable to unexpected disruption. Geopolitical tensions, weather events, and the rising costs of raw goods, transportation, and labor are all factors that can quickly shut down movement. With supply chains in the spotlight, businesses of all sizes are working to mitigate current and potential disruption to serve their customers better. Recent data from KPMG reveals that 67% of surveyed organizations consider meeting their customer-expected delivery times as a critical force that impacts the structure of their supply chains.

Supply chain management does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all approach. Careful consideration of the applications you print, the markets you serve, and your organizational needs impact how you design your supply chain management system. What is universal, however, is this—businesses that adapt and thrive in the face of unexpected disruption can position themselves for long-term success. As a result, organizations of all types are under pressure to establish innovative methods to ensure the resilience and continuity of their operations.

Most established businesses can draw from historical events to learn more about the vulnerabilities of their supply chain. Traditional supply chains include a network of individuals, companies, resources, and technology to make and deliver a product or service. Supply chain management, on the other hand, defines and oversees five supply chain components. These include:

  • Planning or Developing a Strategy for Your Supply Chain: This involves examining your management information or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to determine which supplies and materials are used and what is lost to waste. This information is a critical component in establishing a plan. It enables you to match supply with demand and makes it easier to plan for future needs.
  • Sourcing Materials: This step requires developing solid relationships with suppliers. When doing so, be mindful of proximity and lead time. It's not uncommon for businesses to create redundancy in this step. Take the time to understand the impact on your business if you cannot access key materials. Is there an opportunity to substitute unavailable materials with available supplies?
  • Employee training: PSPs must examine the practice of turning raw materials into products or applications. One of the most common areas of supply chain improvement comes from employee training. Knowledge and best practices on how to reduce waste will mean less materials that need to be sourced.
  • Delivery: Customers' print jobs have little value if they can't be delivered. Timely deliveries require diversification and backup methods. Remember to consider the steps you might need to take if a major weather event prohibits traditional delivery methods.
  • Returns: This step is often called reverse logistics. If a customer requests a return or is unsatisfied with the product, determining where the problem occurred in the supply chain enables you to add required resources and prevent similar problems down the road.

The unexpected bonus of a well-planned supply chain means you have a line of sight into manufacturing. With that, you can ask if there’s an opportunity to improve the document's quality or shipping practices to increase customer satisfaction. Supply chain management protects your organization from the shutdowns caused by supply shortages; the practice is also an opportunity for you and your team to apply continued improvements that help you remain profitable and competitive.

Building the Right Partnerships

Supply chain management is evolving with the rise of "friendshoring" and "nearshoring." While often mislabeled as outsourcing, these practices can serve as cooperative frameworks that meet participating parties' common needs and goals. Friendshoring is all about developing partnerships built on trust, understanding, and a shared vision. It prioritizes collaboration, where both parties work closely together to achieve shared objectives. In the world of supply chain management, this often means informal exchanges and sharing resources (e.g., ink and toner) when they may be hard to come by.

Nearshoring is a strategy that creates a network of resources by geography. This approach offers faster response times and coordination. Businesses that took the Just-in-Case inventory approach by investing heavily in hard-to-come-by supplies like paper can become a valuable resource to their neighboring PSPs that are seeking to balance out their inventories.

The Bottom Line

Every product and print application that is ordered, manufactured, and delivered is the result of the various organizations that make up a supply chain. It's important to note that the strength of a chain can vary greatly and may depend on various factors, including its size, design, and quality. First introduced over 200 years ago in a 1786 essay by Thomas Reid, the proverb “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” has become extremely well-known. This phrase has stood the test of time, and it remains accurate even for today’s supply chain realities.

As part of the Business Development Strategies Consulting Service at Keypoint Intelligence, Karen Kimerer has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry.