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Measuring Capacity in Manufacturing

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Businessman and worker talking next to conveyor belt in recycling plant
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Capacity is often defined as the capability of an object, whether that is a machine, work center or operator, to produce output for a specific time period, which can be an hour, a day, etc. Many companies ignore the measurement of capacity, assuming that their facility has enough capacity, but that is often not the case. Increasingly software programs like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS) calculate throughput based using formulas that are dependant on capacity.

Companies measure capacity in different ways using either the input, output or a combination of the two as the measure. For example, a recycling company calculates their capacity based on the amount of material they clear from the inbound trailers at their plant, while a textile company calculates capacity based on the amount of yarn produced, i.e. an output. Companies use two measures of capacity, theoretical and rated. The theoretical capacity is defined as the maximum output capacity that does not allow for any downtime, while rated capacity is the output capacity can be used for calculation purposes as it is based on a long-term analysis of the actual capacity.

Capacity Strategies

There are three basic capacity strategies used by different organizations when they consider increased demand; lead capacity strategy, lag capacity strategy and the match capacity strategy.

Lead Capacity Strategy

As the name suggests, the lead capacity strategy adds capacity before the demand actually occurs. Companies often use this capacity strategy as it allows company to ramp up production at a time when the demands on the manufacturing plant is not so great. If any issues occur during the ramp up process, these can be dealt with so that when the demand occurs the manufacturing plant will be ready. Companies like this approach as it minimizes risk. As customer satisfaction becomes an increasingly important, businesses do not want to fail to meet delivery dates due to lack of capacity. Another advantage of the lead capacity strategy is that it gives companies a competitive advantage. For example, if a toy manufacturer believes a certain item will be a popular seller for the Christmas period, it will increase capacity prior to the anticipated demand so that it has product in stock while other manufacturers would be playing “catch up”.

However, the lead capacity strategy does have some risk. If the demand does not materialize then the company could quickly find themselves with unwanted inventory as well as the expenditure of ramping up capacity unnecessarily.

Lag Capacity Strategy

This is the opposite of the lead capacity strategy. With the lag capacity strategy the company will ramp up capacity only after the demand has occurred. Although many companies follow this strategy success is not allows guaranteed. However, there are some advantages of this method. Initially it reduces a company’s risk. By not investing at a time of lesser demand and delaying any significant capital expenditure, the company will enjoy a more stable relationship with their bank and investors. Secondly the company will continue to be more profitable than companies who have made the investment with increased capacity. Of course the downside is that the company would have a period where product was unavailable until the capacity was finally increased.

Match Capacity Strategy

The match capacity strategy is one where a company tries to increase capacity in smaller increments to coincide with the increases in volume. Although this method tries to minimize the over and under capacity of the other two methods, companies also get the worst of the two, were they can find themselves over capacity and under capacity at different periods.

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