Bilingual newspaper logistics
Nowadays, large publishing houses are working with digital editing and production systems as a matter of course. They are extremely IT savvy and place high demands on their partners accordingly. This certainly applies to Süddeutscher Verlag, a Logwin customer of many years standing.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) is the flagship of the Süddeutscher Verlag publishing company, with a daily readership of 1.16 million. Logwin has been delivering SZ newspapers from the German printing facilities in Berlin-Spandau, Ahrensburg (near Hamburg) and Essen-Kettwig for a long time.
Logistics hot off the press
Now the publishing house has commissioned Logwin with delivery of the newspaper from its Munich printing facility as well. Who actually delivers the paper to the reader? The Logwin Sprinter Network might be the first response that comes to mind. But of course, the logistics process has commenced long before the first pallets are in the loading bay. It is initiated much earlier, with IT systems exchanging data before the first van has hit the road.
Delivery of the newspaper is organized on the basis of printing facility machine control data. Information contained in this data provides the “to do list” for offset printing presses producing and processing the SZ. It specifies the number of issues of each edition to be printed for each consignee. This data even includes the delivery route to wholesale distributors, train station media outlets and subscription suppliers. “The entire delivery schedule for the issues produced every day at each facility is based on the machine control data,” explains Hartmut Fischer, Manager Media Systems at Logwin.
IT managing delivery logistics
The updated printing control data are provided daily to the Logwin EDI Centre by electronic data transfer. These are by no means your run-of-the-mill logistics IT formats. In order to understand the content of the news items, Logwin’s IT department has programmed a converter specifically for this file format that translates the data into a standardised extensible markup language (XML) document, in other words into readable text. This means that the file, with approx. 6,000 lines encompassing one million characters, has to be decoded.
The converter is a kind of simultaneous translator for printing press files. However, before the transport vehicles can set off to the distribution points with the correct number of newspapers, one more translation is required: Logwin replaces the route ID numbers assigned by SZ with numerical codes. Now the Logwin transport management system can process and forward the data.
Ferag can’t speak MüllerMartini
However, printing presses are not necessarily alike. All printing facilities previously managed by Logwin operated MüllerMartini presses. This meant that any new orders could be handled using the existing converter – but not any more. The printer in Munich-Steinhausen uses presses manufactured by Ferag, a MüllerMartini competitor. Despite the fact that both companies were originally Swiss, their products speak two different languages altogether. “The Munich facility delivers control data in the form of a Ferag string, a proprietary program developed by the printing press manufacturer,” explains Hartmut Fischer. “The data could not be read by our converter as it is coded differently. Consequently, we had to program a new ‘translator’ practically from scratch.”
Two languages and only five days programming
The timeframe itself was rather ambitious, with the Media IT section only receiving the new order on May 12th and June 1 scheduled as the official starting date. To make things even more challenging, this period also included two German public holidays. This meant that many contacts were away on holiday and effectively unavailable for the Media team to clarify any unresolved issues. On May 14th the team received the first set of test data from the newspaper, only to realize that the Ferag data records were definitely incompatible with the existing solution. So the Media IT unit started analyzing the file format on May 16th – in coordination with the Logwin EDI Centre. Meanwhile, the SZ provided a data record description. This, in a manner of speaking, is a “vocabulary list” indicating the meaning of the various symbols used in the Ferag string. The holiday period meant that the Media IT team could only start programming properly on May 25th. The converter was ready to go on May 28th. With bated breath the team fed the first test data into the system. And it worked – the new converter “spoke” proper “Ferag”. After a final test on May 31st the converter went into standard operation on June 1st as scheduled. Actual programming time: 5 days. “Thanks to the outstanding level of cooperation between our IT staff and the SZ contacts we were able to execute the distribution order on the desired date,” says Hartmut Fischer. “This example shows very clearly how good logistics performance relies on a solid information technology footing.”
The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) is Germany’s largest national subscription-based-newspaper with an average circulation (Mon – Sat) of around 446,000 copies. The national edition of the SZ is printed in four locations: Munich Steinhausen, Berlin-Spandau, Essen-Kettwig and Hamburg-Ahrensburg. The Munich printing facility also produces a Bavarian and a Munich edition with 4 suburban and 7 regional editions. The first edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung appeared on 6th October 1945, under 6 months after the end of World War II. The SZ is produced by Süddeutscher Verlag, a publishing house owned by a Munich publishing family and Südwestdeutsche Medien-Holding (SWMH). Süddeutscher Verlag is one of the largest media groups in Germany, is active in both Germany and abroad, has over 100 subsidiaries under its roof and employs around 3,500 staff. The focus of the publishing firm still lies in the newspaper business and the publication of specialist journals.