Two Steps You Absolutely Must Take to Ensure Printing Problems Don’t Slow Your Business.

For distribution companies, fulfillment operations, and just about any business with a warehouse or shipping operation, the fourth quarter of the calendar year is the busiest season of the year. The big driver, of course, is consumer activity related to everything from back-to-school spending to holiday shopping, which drives an increase in shipping volume that is felt in just about every corner of the economy.

Of course, a Q4 spike in business activity is nothing new. What’s unique, however, is adapting to the seasonal demand in the face of post-COVID supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. Many forecasters thought these challenges would be in the rear-view mirror by now, but anyone paying attention to the real world knows they are with us for the foreseeable future.

That means business leaders need to focus on the productivity and resiliency of every area of their operations, including the seemingly mundane printer workflows that are essential to so many businesses. After all, if your printers can’t meet demand—even for want of something as simple as a ribbon or labels—shipments will grind to an inevitable halt.

We recommend that every business takes two specific steps to prevent unexpected printing obstacles from becoming a barrier to productivity. These steps are especially important as volume spikes in Q4, but given the ongoing reality of supply chain and labor challenges, they’re steps that will pay off all year around for most businesses.

Step 1: Get a Handle on Ribbon and Label Inventory

Few things stall shipping operations faster or more completely than running out of ribbons or labels. At a minimum, running short of supplies will slow you down for at least a shift or two. If you’re lucky, your supplier will be able to get you back up to speed in a day or two. But two years of ongoing supply chain disruption has taught us that ribbons and labels could be backordered just when you need them.

The reality of today’s supply chain requires a different approach to mission-critical supplies. At a minimum, shippers should expand their reserve/reorder thresholds to create a larger cushion of mission-critical ribbons and labels. Sure, reordering earlier means investing in more inventory, but that’s a small cost to pay if it keeps your operation humming.

Giving your business a slightly bigger inventory reserve is the minimum you should consider. In many businesses, it makes sense to work with your suppliers to create a blanket or yearly order with quarterly shipping plans. Tri-State Business Systems works closely with manufacturers like Zebra to put together make-and-hold programs that help ensure the specific ribbons and labels you use will be available when you need them.

Step 2: Match Your Ribbons and Labels to Your Applications

When it comes to printer supplies, one of the most common problems we see is customers using thermal printer ribbons and labels that aren’t the best match for their applications. There are literally hundreds of ribbon formulations in the marketplace, but they aren’t all compatible with specific types of labels. And, even when you are using compatible ribbons and labels, the specific combination might not be the best fit for your application.

Using the wrong ribbons and labels can create a range of problems. The most obvious is label lifespan and durability. This generally isn’t a big issue for labels that have a relatively short lifespan, such as shipping labels. But it can be a significant problem for special-purpose labels that need to stay in circulation for long periods of time (e.g., labels on UL-Listed electronics) or labels that are exposed to extreme conditions (e.g., weather, chemicals, etc.). These are problems that usually result in the need to reprint and reapply labels, which is an unnecessary labor expense that makes it even more difficult for warehouses and distributors to cope with already tight labor conditions.

It’s also possible that you’re using ribbons or labels that unnecessarily slow your printer productivity. Our partners at Zebra recently shared the experience of a multi-site distribution operation that was using a ribbon/label combination that allowed for about 50% faster label printing in one of their facilities. Adopting the same ribbon and label solution at the company’s other facility saved 20 hours a week of printer time—that’s two and a half shifts where an employee could focus on something other than printing. With labor as tight as it is now, it makes sense to look carefully at these areas of operation to see if you can find similar savings from something as simple as changing printer ribbons and label stock.

If printer supplies like ribbons and labels are critical to your productivity, contact Tri-State Business Systems for help working out a supply strategy that ensures you always have the tools you need to succeed. We are a Zebra Certified Supplies Specialist, which enables us to provide nationwide service and support for Zebra printers and supplies.