Holding Mill Accountable for Lack of Consistency in Stock

I ran into a “situation” the other day. It’s the sort of situation that happens in this business with a high mean and an exponential distribution. It can happen, but that doesn’t mean it should happen.

Here’s the background. Our client, a major retailer, awarded us a big program—ongoing execution of its loyalty program welcome kits. These weren’t simple kits. They’re totally data-driven and duplex laser imaged throughout with multiple personalized offer cards attached. The sheets are assembled, stitched and inserted with other materials into a closed-face envelope. It’s a match of more than 10 items with 2D barcodes up the ying yang.

Prior to starting the job, we rigorously and laboriously tested the paper stock. Tested, tested again, and then tested until the cows came home.

After the first batch of stock yielded 1.5 million kits, we reordered the same stock from the same manufacturer and undertook exactly the same production process. But when the shells arrived at the lasers for imaging, they started twisting and misfeeding. Production plummeted by 40 percent and rubber bands started appearing all over the machines like chicken pox on a first grader. I think we’ve all been there at one time or another—a situation.

I examined the new stock and compared it to the old shells. You know, the stuff we tested like crazy and with which we had never had problems. The two didn’t match up. I went into full-on investigative mode. The old paper mic’d 4.8 and had a true matte finish. The new stock mic’d 4.2 with more of a dull finish.

My heart raced. Had I made a terrible mistake? Had I mistakenly ordered the wrong stuff?

I checked my PO. Whew, no problem there. Next possibility…Had the mill shipped the wrong item? I checked the roll manifest. Nope, it matched the PO. Was it the wrong basis weight? No, stocks were both 80#-lb. text.

A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC

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  • Paper Mill Manager

    Dustin, although I am sympathic to your recent "situation",and have seen this happen countless times before, the plain reality is that paper made at different mill locations are different. Different trees, different clay, different starch, different paper machines etc. The marketplace simply can’t afford to pay for paper that is identical throughout a mill’s manufacturing system. I suggest you bring the mill partner in BEFORE you run a complicated job like you outlined above. If printers stopped chasing the lowest price, just for a moment, and took the time to discuss their needs with the mill, maybe they could prevent this from happening again.

  • Shirley A Burns

    Terrible. We have had the ‘it’s operating withing tolerance’ excuse used on us for some of our equipment. Um, you might be able to tolerate it, but my customer can’t!

  • hasleman

    It happened to me when ordering a smooth finish. The paper came in feeling like 65lb cover when I ordered 80. My customer said I was using lighter paper to save money. I called the paper supplier and they told me the mill says that a 2 point variation in thickness between runs was "acceptable" since the thickness is measured before milling to achieve the smooth finish. I now only use vellum when smooth is not specified.