There’s been a big push towards lean manufacturing and logistics in the past few years, with manufacturers doing everything in their power to reduce inventory levels and rely less on their buffer stock. Because there’s a considerable element of risk involved in a truly lean supply chain, virtually all supply chains stop short of completely lean workflows. The one significant exception? The newspaper industry. While newspapers aren’t usually thought of as manufacturers in the traditional sense, they do produce a product in a systematic way in order to be shipped to end-users—with the crucial difference that anything resembling a buffer stock or inventory is rendered useless by the impossibly short lead times, as papers become obsolete just hours after they’re distributed.
As a logistics provider or other supply chain administrator working within this medium, this hyper-lean structures will present a number of challenges to overcome. At the same time, the modern, digital world is presenting newspaper distributors with new possibilities for process improvement, optimization, and cost saving that would have been nearly impossible in previous years. Read on to learn more about these challenges and the tactics that can help you overcome them.
Like we said above, the dream of the lean supply chain has been alive and well in the newspaper industry basically since its founding. In a typical workflow, a paper might send its final copy of the morning paper to printers after midnight, the printers might have the final product ready to load into trucks or vans around 3am, and readers will expect a paper on their doorstep by around 6. Not only does this leave very little room for error, it also disincentivizes change or innovation, since static transport networks and routes are less prone to disruption.
The above might give you the impression that there’s little room for optimization within press distribution processes as they exist right now, but in point of fact the static nature of these workflows makes them ripe for process improvements. Right now, for most distributors, a late printing of a particular paper leaves logistics planners with a difficult choice: wait for the paper to come out and risk either late delivery of your entire shipment, or begin your shipment early and try to recoup the lost papers (albeit with late delivery essentially guaranteed) later with another truck or van route. Neither of these is ideal, especially when you consider that most of the time you simply won’t have the necessary visibility into individual papers to plan adequately far in advance.
Of course, visibility is one of the hallmarks of an intentionally lean supply chain. Thus, if supply chain managers in the press distribution sector are able to go one step further into lean territory and embrace this high level of visibility (whether that’s by integrating digitally with various papers or printers, implementing internet of things devices within the value chain, or other methods), they would be able to drive towards the level of adaptability that traditional lean supply chains imply. They could, for instance, get an early notification about the likelihood of a late print run based on data from the printer, and then use a digital model of their transport networks and routes to simulate the outcomes of various responses. They could create new plans and perform replanning workflows in order to determine the optimal new route—all on a moment’s notice. In this way, on-time delivery could be preserved as well as possible.
Crafting Regional Routes
For local papers with a relatively limited distribution radius, planners typically only have to grapple with one press and one loading area. This simplifies planning to a considerable degree. With national or international papers, on the other hand, it’s more common to see different printers serving different geographic regions, i.e. The New York Times would send its final copy to a whole host of different printers spread around the world, so that their distribution flows could be more decentralized. The value here, especially for an international brand, is pretty obvious: no one is stuck trying to transport a paper from New York to Boston by 6 am; additionally, this makes it much more feasible to print regional editions of the same paper (with local news, sports, or weather inserted into each one, for instance).
Again, we’re seeing an area where traditional news distribution looks a lot like sophisticated trends in modern supply chain management. Part of the goal of Industry 4.0 is to create the so-called global factory, in which a network of factories all over the world combine to create finished products and meet customer demand. This is, in a way, already a reality in newspaper distribution. What does this mean for supply chain managers? That the same tactics they use to optimize Industry 4.0-processes can also be applied to reduce costs and add value under these circumstances. With a little bit of digital infrastructure, it’s suddenly possible to test different configurations of printers, trucks, vans, and neighborhood delivery services in order to find the most cost- and time-effective options. Likewise, in the event of a disruption, you could cobble together a plan B based on digital information streams providing insight into alternative sources of supply, for instance.
A few times over the course of this article, we’ve discussed digitization and the role that it can play in optimizing press logistics. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is another area where the newspaper industry is operating at a higher level of (latent) sophistication than you might think. Most papers are already sending digital editions of their papers to the printers, so a certain amount of digital infrastructure is already in place, and the same holds true for the printers who are able to turn that digital data into a physical product. Thus, if there’s one key takeaway for supply chain managers when it comes to the newspaper industry, it’s this: the groundwork for digital transformation is, in most cases, already there; it’s just a matter of harnessing that power into smarter, more connected, and more agile processes.