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Building a Just-in-Time Ecosystem

Things can get challenging when the mercury falls 45 degrees below zero. Air hoses freeze, trains and trucks slow, and each minute of delay ripples down the supply chain. A decade ago, a customer could wait out the storm, drawing on backup supplies of paper they had stored in their warehouses. Today, those facilities are long gone, and in their place are complex webs of electronic tracking systems and processes that make up just-in-time inventory systems.

This shift among customers has inspired Resolute to adapt and move quickly to meet customer expectations. Enter Brian McGurk, Director of Logistics who, ironically enough, likens his world of interlocking systems, dependent variables and feedback loops to an ecosystem that rivals the forest.

“Customers can’t afford today to store large quantities of paper,” says McGurk. “Running warehouses takes significant time and money.”

Resolute’s just-in-time system covers two spheres. The first sphere encompasses all the products and services the company needs to run its own operations. Natural gas that generates power, electrical components and replacement parts all fall into that category. “The new tracking systems we’re deploying will allow us to better assess the reliability of each vendor that we work with. Now, sometimes, our suppliers will have problems securing the raw materials they need, or they’ll have problems with shipments getting stuck at a border crossing. Regardless of the cause, the data will reveal patterns we couldn’t see before, and will enable us to plan and compensate for them. In the long run, this will lower our operational costs while increasing reliability for both our operations and our end customers. This process isn’t a small one and it will take years to see through full development.”

The second sphere is customer facing. It includes everything from the forklift that takes the paper from the mill to the waiting train or truck that ultimately delivers the shipment to a publisher or retailer.

“Sphere one will push us to become better manufacturers. The more links in the chain we can remove, the simpler and more stable the system will become,” McGurk continues. “Sphere two encourages us to become better listeners to the needs of our customers. The better we understand and monitor our customer’s business, the better we can predict their just-in-time needs. If all our mills, all our facilities, and all the rails, roads and electronics that connect them are an ecosystem, then our job in operations is largely the same as in the forest. Keep it healthy, keep it balanced, and keep it sustainable.”

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