Our blog talks about what’s on our customers’ minds. And what’s on our customers’ minds? Stock. Toner. Consumables. Semiconductors. Lead times. Rising prices. In short, the difficulties the print industry is facing with sourcing the right supplies at the right time for the right price.
At First Copy, we want to tackle supply problems head-on. We all know there are issues across the industry (and beyond) with supply chains and deliveries, and we know that we can’t solve them alone, but we do want to reassure you that we will do everything in our power to keep your presses moving.
Why are there supply chain delays in the print industry?
Some of the reasons that consumables supply is challenging are not unique to the print sector, and some are not unique to the UK. Delays and staffing issues are affecting all manufacturing and distribution areas regardless of industry; it’s not just harder to get printer toner but to get a new sofa or build a new patio.
Some products cannot be made quickly enough due to parts shortages; others are sitting in ports for longer than we’re used to, tied up with Brexit red tape and/or waiting for a lorry. COVID’s had a global impact, too, not just on manufacturing and delivery but on the products that people want to buy.
The gradual switch from single-use plastic packaging to more sustainable digital packaging and paper/carton board is potentially excellent news for the environment. However, it’s taking time for supply to catch up with demand. In addition, personalised print, online gifting and the like are booming; everyone wants paper stocks, toner and labels.
Consumer demand is opening opportunities to businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic, but global supply chains are struggling to catch up.
The last few months have seen disruptions to toner deliveries from multiple manufacturers and for several different reasons. In August, Konica Minolta experienced a fire at a factory in Japan, causing toner production delays and knock-on impacts getting toner to print service providers. All manufacturers are dealing with increased manufacturing, freight, container and storage costs and dealing with capacity challenges in ports.
Major print and electronics manufacturers are trying to create some flexibility in the supply chain and attempt to ease the flow of consumables worldwide. We know, for example, that Xerox has put contingency plans in place, holding back emergency stock for allocation against customers who require it urgently. It goes without saying that the supply of consumables is crucial for our managed services customers and others alike.
What can First Copy do about toner supply issues?
First Copy keeps an eye on consumables for customers and uses channels available to escalate issues before you have to stop printing. Some orders are not currently delivered within the timeframes we usually expect, and we foresee global challenges continuing for some months. However, our technical team are working hard to ensure that this doesn’t impact the day-to-day running of your business by chasing orders and distributing toner as quickly and fairly as possible.
As First Copy customers, print companies have an extra support team beyond the Xerox Customer Expectations Document, and we’re here to help you overcome any delays and pain points. We’re your partner, and as such, we will champion your interests and advocate for you.
Ink manufacture uses ethanol. What else do we need ethanol for? Hand sanitiser and cleaning supplies. Understandably, it’s been in demand during two years of pandemic. Depending on the type of ink, there may also be difficulties finding supplies of pigments, petrochemicals and vegetable oils.
Most of our digital presses use toner, but our inkjet devices (for example, the Xerox Baltoro and earlier machines) need ink, just as small desktop inkjet printers need ink cartridges. Like toner, ink supply chains are being impacted by coronavirus, trade barriers and demand for the end products, as well as shortages of crucial raw materials. Even as supply begins to catch up, it struggles to reach the needs of a rebounding global economy.
But First Copy can help here, too. As a customer, our team will do all in our power to support you through the next few months and escalate consumables orders to keep you supplied.
The global paper shortage has even been picked up by the BBC in recent weeks. Rocketing demand for cardboard as home delivery has soared has seen raw materials diverted to packaging. Even greater demand before Christmas and the Brexit deadline exacerbated existing challenges. What’s more, packaging building up in a million garages and sheds takes longer to reach recycling chains than packaging collected from retail centres.
You may also be aware of strikes in Finnish paper mills. These have had (and continue to have) widespread impacts on European paper supplies, particularly specialist stocks such as labels. FT suggests that UPM (the epicentre of the strike action) supplies as much as 40% of backing sheets for labels in Europe, and production will continue to fall until at least mid-March 2022. PrintWeek recently reported that strikes could be extended into April.
As a result, lead times on packaging are lengthening – even for non-printed boxes – and costs are rising. It’s expected that printer paper will make up a smaller percentage of the end product of paper pulp compared to packaging media moving forward. There’s hope that new capacity will help supply catch up with demand later this year, but in the meantime, it will mean changes in availability and delivery times. For example, cut-sheet papers ranges may reduce in size, and availability might vary.
What does First Copy advise to cope with paper and stock supply issues?
Firstly, flexibility. Can you find another rated stock that can fulfil your needs for a particular job? First Copy’s specialists can help you access approved lists and the expertise to find another solution if your preferred stock is harder to get hold of. If you have a particularly large press such as a Xerox Baltoro, then talk to us about roll sheet feeders, as rolls may be simpler to get hold of.
Secondly, planning ahead. Try to order further in advance than you might have done six months ago.
Lastly, keep in touch with us. If you are worried about an order, let us know and we will do our best to help you.
Modern electronics have ‘brains’ known as semiconductors or chips. These are present in thousands of products, not just the most obvious ones such as laptops and smartphones, but in furniture, appliances, toner and medical supplies. A global chip shortage has been evident for a couple of years now. Increasing demand (as we become increasingly connected), a boom in personal devices during the pandemic, and enormous supply chain disruptions have led to well-publicised reports of shortages, particularly from car makers.
Demand has been rising year on year, but existing manufacturing facilities are already running flat out to make electronic components. Countries worldwide are trying to increase (or initiate) domestic semiconductor production to try to ease containerage and transport issues. However, there are already fears (as discussed in Wired) that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will spur another shortage of semiconductor components; a company in Odesa makes neon gas (used to power lasers that etch patterns into computer chips), and until last week Ukraine supplied around half of the globe’s neon.
Toners and printers alike need semiconductors, and all printer manufacturers are factoring chip supply into their supply chain plans. First Copy recommends discussing lead times if you’re investing in a new press. Currently, the semiconductor shortage alone doesn’t mean that every device and toner will have a long wait time. Still, there are variations between products, often caused by the other issues discussed in this blog.
First Copy will work hard to source the machines and consumables you need. While we can’t solve supply issues single-handedly, we’ll do our best to keep you informed about lead times from the word ‘go’.
While print supplies delays are (at best) frustrating, there’s a glimmer of good news: demand is high because print businesses are bouncing back strongly, perhaps more strongly than was expected in some quarters. We cannot predict how the Russian invasion of Ukraine will affect supply chains, and for now, it’s perhaps not appropriate to guess. However, we would like to say that the team here is thinking about our print colleagues and their families in Ukraine.
First Copy doesn’t expect consumables problems to go away in the coming weeks but is hopeful that supply will catch up with demand in time. Until that happens, we promise to advocate for our customers and escalate consumables orders with Xerox where possible to keep your presses running. We ask that you let us know as soon as you become aware that your order may not arrive in time so that we can follow it up as quickly as possible.
As a business, we endeavour to keep you updated over the coming months through customer communications, our website and newsletters. You can sign up to receive emails using the form in the footer.