What’s in Your Warehouse? Are You Sure?


Well-known member
What’s in Your Warehouse? Are You Sure?
Keeping tabs on all the stuff you print

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

In an average week you process what, 50 jobs?100? 150? 200? Let’s say about half of each job hits the mail or goes out to the customer. The rest goes to shelves in your warehouse so it’s ready when the client needs it. Juggling all this—and making money from it— requires…
  • Exact counts for all the work produced for a customer, which may include outgoing and response envelopes, pre-prints, corrugated containers, labels, posters and point-of purchase displays, product samples, fulfillment kits, and more. Even staples. Some of this may include items from other suppliers because you handle the printing and shipping. It all goes through your warehouse and has value attached.
  • Knowing precisely what you used in preparing the most recent job, including substrates, ink, toner, staples, envelopes, containers, inserts, fulfillment kit parts, and more. This tells you what needs to be ordered for the next job so it will be on hand and so you can charge for it.
This is just for one customer. And you have dozens of customers and their jobs, each with varying degrees of complexity.

In addition, you need data-driven information like stocking levels, economic order quantities, cost tracking, order history and adjustments, goods and materials you stock as part of order fulfillment, and more. And speaking of fulfillment, you need to monitor cost and quantity of all finished goods whether it is something you produced, an inventory item, a product or a kit. You may need to create and track sales orders, automatically generate back orders for each job when necessary, create pick lists for your employees, and coordinate single orders to multiple locations. Keeping track of it all—accurately and efficiently—takes more than constantly updated spreadsheets. You need the real-time intelligence of a Print Management Information System (Print MIS).

Walk through your plant
I think of some large print operations I was in last year. One had three digital presses in one room, offset presses in another and wide format inkjet machines in a third. An all digital shop had several toner-based digital presses and three large-format inkjet machines. A third sub-contracted certain jobs but supplied all the inventory that went to the outside shop. On top of this, some jobs required multiple printing technologies while pick-and-pack orders needed close attention to every aspect of inventory levels.

Walking around with the business owners I found they mostly kept track of inventory levels with barcode scans that connected to various spreadsheets. This seemed okay except for the gaps in the flow of information from the shop floor to the production managers, estimators and business owners. It didn’t always matter. But other times it resulted in customers having to wait for materials to arrive at the shop before jobs could be processed. While mostly a scheduling issue, it could still tap the brakes on a job or print schedule, and over the course of a year leave some money on the shop floor because fewer jobs were being completed and billed. And it was mostly because the print shop didn’t have a detailed sense of the moving parts—the inventory—that made their business possible.

The Backbone
“Inventory management is the backbone of the entire Print MIS,” says Josh Perkins, Solutions Architect & Product Manager for Avanti Slingshot at Avanti Systems in North York, Ontario. “Keeping track of everything you need to meet customer needs is vital to successful operations. A comprehensive Print MIS provides all the information needed to keep a print operation running smoothly and profitably.”

Perkins is right. When I was buying a lot of print I kept a variety of materials in stock at the printer/mail house we used. After a couple visits I learned inventory wasn’t always up to date. We fixed the problem, but it made for several fire drills and some awkward conversations.

Even if you are doing lots of just-in-time daily print runs, don’t assume inventory management is a non-issue. You still have to be sure you have sufficient materials on hand for each job, especially those that don’t draw from your “standard” inventories. “Be sure to pay attention to your SLAs,” advises Perkins. “A comprehensive Print MIS can proactively help make sure you know that all the materials you need are in stock before the job runs.” This can extend to non-print items that are part of fulfillment kits so you have materials in advance of needs for both scheduled and unscheduled jobs.

The Power of Knowing More
Perkins notes that the inventory power of a Print MIS can span multiple parts of a shop and combine elements of a job that are produced throughout a print plant. For instance, the printing for a training seminar job may need some generic offset printed pages that are pulled from the warehouse, such as a poster on a textured substrate, combined with a glossy personalized full-color pocket folder that holds personalized training materials printed on 24-pound stock. None of this is all that complex, but having a Print MIS managing inventory can help make sure all these elements are available when needed. More importantly, it can foster communications with customers.

Perkins explains. “A business owner, CSR or production manager can see inventories as they relate to job orders inside the Print MIS application. This enables him or her look at a computer screen and tell a customer, ‘The offset part and the posters were in stock so we have them. The digital pages that need personalization will be done in about an hour and the personalized folders will be finished before lunch time. We have 50 kit boxes and mailing tubes on the shelf so we’ll kit it out this afternoon and it will be shipping by the end of the day. Then for the training you have next month, we still have 30 posters, 35 mailing tubes, 35 kit boxes in inventory, and 107 copies of the offset part of the job already done, so you look good for that. We’ll just need to print the personalized parts, so be sure to send us the data for those personalized pieces. It doesn’t look like the data file has arrived yet and we’d like to have it next week so we can be sure that one is ready for you.’ ”

This level of detail comes out of your Print MIS inventory management system and inspires confidence among customers to help make your business the go-to choice.

The Moving Target
One of the challenges with inventory is its constant state of flux, making it a moving target. A Print MIS doesn’t stop it from moving but it helps you go with the flow and maintain momentum regardless of business conditions or the demands of your customers. The details of all your supply levels arrive in the purchase orders, invoices and bills of lading and can be combined with goods in stock. Other items, including materials on hand, can be added using barcode scans of materials arriving on skids or pallets. The data can provide a continually updated status of all materials in stock so you are able to tell at a moment’s notice that you have only half of the substrate you need to run the job you have promised to deliver next Friday, but also see that other half will be on your dock on Monday morning.

According to Perkins such variables can be counted in different ways: the purchase orders may differ from reality, such as you received 11 skids of a certain type of paper instead of 12. “The system can track your order volume by supplier to help ensure you are credited with any volume discounts, which helps you keep track of your actual and projected expenses,” he says. “Metrics like this are built in to help show where costs are going.” This continues into production, where waste has been known to occur, and provide detailed job-cost information so you can compare estimates and quotes to actual conditions.

All the way to Fulfillment
There’s no question that fulfillment services can be a terrific value add but it can be complicated and comes with its own challenges. Inventory management is a crucial part of this that we’ll get into in a few weeks when we talk about Fulfillment in a Print MIS. Stay tuned!

A comprehensive Print MIS starts with estimating and quoting, then moves to inventory, purchasing, pre-press, production, fulfillment, shipping, and the financial aspects of automating as many moving parts as possible. Coming in our next episode are the nuances of purchasing and how more automation can help make your business more successful and profitable.


A 30-day Fix for Managed Chaos

As any print professional knows, printing can be managed chaos. Software that solves multiple problems and provides measurable and monetizable value has a direct impact on the bottom-line.

“We reduced order entry costs by about 40%.” Significant savings in a shop that turns about 500 jobs a month.

Learn how…….