August 2003
Converting paper to profits
Paper converters are growing and that could mean savings for you
With extreme pricing pressure, what can printers do to eek out a profit? There is much discussion about increasing “value-added services,” using digital print for customization, and one-to-one marketing, but those actions require investment, expertise and time. All of which are in short supply today.

The immediate way to remain competitive is to ensure that your company is running as efficiently as possible, that costs are minimized, and material is as economical as possible. This has pushed up demand for products from paper converters. As a result, the number of converters has grown, the product range has multiplied, quality has improved in many cases and service levels have expanded.

A few years back, converters had a bad reputation, as they would often sell seconds, or stock intended for other purposes. I remember getting a run of “quality coated” paper only to find it was rejected photo paper, which had an inconsistent finish. It was a real challenge to print on. We all know that there is a market for seconds and other papers, but now some converters are providing a wide range of paper that is mill prime.
I recently visited Baldwin Paper for a tour and found that the converting industry has changed significantly in the last few years. First off, the fact that they only deal directly with mills and use only mill prime paper was something that I was not aware of.

I recently visited Baldwin Paper for a tour and
found that the
converting industry has changed
significantly in
the last few years
Paper quality is as critical to printers as it is to customers. Knowing if the paper is prime grade or seconds is important from printers’ perspective, so they can assess the likelihood of production problems, or additional spoilage.

Quality in converting rolls to cut sheets is also important. The converter must make sure that the sheets are square, the edges are clean and there is minimal or no paper dust. Quality at the converters can be achieved with new, high-quality sheeters, but also with good manufacturing practices including changing the slitters and blades frequently, before deterioration becomes evident.

The service level of the industry has improved in all respects. For converters to boost service levels, they need to have a supply of the stock you require for your type of work. Try to develop a close relationship with a converter so they develop an understanding of your business requirements and can serve you better. You will develop an understanding of their specialties, inventory and other stock that they may have quick access to, and you will learn about their ability to deliver a quality sheet and fulfill their promises. After all, in some cases, you are only as good as your suppliers.

One converter we visited offers 24-hour service for in-stock items. This high service level is important for our demanding requirements. Mill orders can take three to four weeks subject to the production schedule at the mill, and where in their cycle your order is placed. With the industry downturn, and the reduced demand for paper, the service level delivered by mills may have improved, since there are fewer orders.

We understand that it is normal
to achieve
10% savings
at the low end
The selection of stock available at converters may vary subject to their specialty, or it may be quite varied or sporadic if they focus on acquiring job lots or old inventory from mills. Many converters specialize their products for different types of paper, whether it is commercial printing papers, web stock and re-wind rolls, coated card, boxboard, cover stock, plastics, NCR, and other types of paper. You may need to review the product lines from a couple of converters to find a steady supply of papers for your requirements.

The key reason for using a converter is price. What kind of savings can you expect by using a converter? We understand that it’s normal to achieve 10% savings at the low end. In general, price is subject to many factors, such as quantity, size, and time available, but a key saving would be to use stock made to your specific size requirements.

Let’s say that you are producing a run of 20,000, 9" x 12" pocket folders with a 3" pocket. Your plan is to run it 2-up on a 40" press. The preferred stock would be 20" x 32" but the closest standard sheet available is 23" x 35", 248M. If you could order a custom size of 20" x 32", 197M you would use approximately 20% less stock. On top of that, it is likely that you would save a minimum of 10% on the stock costs as well.
That significant savings may not only make the difference between winning the job or losing it, it could also be the difference between a profit and a loss.
Bob Dale is the president of Pilot Graphic Management Services Inc., a company providing management consulting and custom training for organizations. He is also on the executive of the Toronto Club of Printing House Craftsmen. Bob can be reached at (416) 410-4096, or via e-mail at
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