Capacity planning has seen an increased emphasis due to the financial benefits of the efficient use of capacity plans within material requirements planning systems and other information systems. Insufficient capacity can cause deteriorating delivery performance, unnecessarily increase work-in-process, and frustrate sales and manufacturing personnel. However, excess capacity can be costly and unnecessary. The inability to properly manage capacity can be a barrier to the achievement of maximum firm performance. In addition, capacity is an important factor in the organization's choice of technology.
Capacity is usually assumed to mean the maximum rate at which a transformation system produces or processes inputs. Sometimes, this rate may actually be “all at once”—as with the capacity of an airplane. A more usable definition of capacity would be the volume of output per elapsed time and the production capability of a facility.
Capacity planning is the process used to determine how much capacity is needed (and when) in order to
manufacture greater product or begin production of a new product. A number of factors can affect capacity—number of workers, ability of workers, number of machines, waste, scrap, defects, errors, productivity, suppliers, government regulations, and preventive maintenance. Capacity planning is relevant in both the long term and the short term. However, there are different issues at stake for each.
LONG-TERM CAPACITY PLANNING
Over the long term, capacity planning relates primarily to strategic issues involving the firm's major production facilities. In addition, long-term capacity issues are interrelated with location decisions. Technology and transferability of the process to other products is also intertwined with long-term capacity planning. Long-term capacity planning may evolve when short-term changes in capacity are insufficient. For example, if the firm's addition of a third shift to its current two-shift plan still does not produce enough output, and subcontracting arrangements cannot be made, one feasible alternative is to add capital equipment and modify the layout of the plant (long-term actions). It may even be desirable to add additional plant space or to construct a new facility (long-term alternatives).
SHORT-TERM CAPACITY PLANNING
In the short term, capacity planning concerns issues of scheduling, labor shifts, and balancing resource capacities. The goal of short-term capacity planning is to handle unexpected shifts in demand in an efficient, economic manner. The time frame for short-term planning is frequently only a few days but may run as long as six months.
Alternatives for making short-term changes in capacity are fairly numerous and can even include the decision to not meet demand at all. The easiest and most commonly used method to increase capacity in the short term is working overtime. This is a flexible and inexpensive alternative. While the firm has to pay one and one half times the normal labor rate, it foregoes the expense of hiring, training, and paying additional benefits. When not used abusively, most workers appreciate the opportunity to earn extra wages. If overtime does not provide enough short-term capacity, other resource-increasing alternatives are available. These include adding shifts, employing casual or part-time workers, the use of floating workers, leasing workers, and facilities subcontracting.
Firms may also increase capacity by improving the use of their resources. The most common alternatives in this category are worker cross-training, and overlapping or staggering shifts. Most manufacturing firms inventory some output ahead of demand so that any need for a capacity change is absorbed by the inventory buffer. From a technical perspective, firms may initiate a process design intended to increase productivity at work stations. Manufacturers can also shift demand to avoid capacity requirement fluctuation by backlogging, queuing demand, or lengthening the firm's lead times. Service firms accomplish the same results through scheduling appointments and reservations.
A more creative approach is to modify the output. Standardizing the output or offering complimentary services are examples. In services, one might allow customers to do some of the process work themselves (e.g., self-service gas stations and fast-food restaurants). Another alternative—reducing quality—is an undesirable yet viable tactic.
Finally, the firm may attempt to modify demand. Changing the price and promoting the product are common examples. Another alternative is to partition demand by initiating a yield or revenue management system. Utilities also report success in shifting demand by the use of “off-peak” pricing.
There are four procedures for capacity planning; capacity planning using overall factors (CPOF), capacity bills, resource profiles, and capacity requirements planning (CRP). The first three are rough-cut approaches (involving analysis to identify potential bottlenecks) that can be used with or without manufacturing resource planning (MRP) systems. CRP is used in conjunction with MRP systems.
Capacity using overall factors is a simple, manual approach to capacity planning that is based on the master production schedule and production standards that convert required units of finished goods into historical loads on each work center. Bills of capacity is a procedure based on the manufacturing production schedule (MPS). Instead of using historical ratios, however, it utilizes the bills of material and routing sheet (which shows the sequence or work centers required to manufacture the part, as well as the setup and run time). Capacity requirements can then be determined by multiplying the number of units required by the MPS by the time needed to produce each. Resource profiles are the same as bills of capacity, except lead times are included so that workloads fall into the correct periods.
Capacity requirements planning is only applicable in firms using MRP or MRP II. CRP uses the information from one of the previous rough-cut methods, plus MRP outputs on existing inventories and lot sizing. The result is a tabular load report for each work center or a graphical load profile for helping plan-production requirements. This will indicate where capacity is inadequate or idle, allowing for imbalances to be corrected by shifts in personnel or equipment or the use of overtime or added shifts. Finite capacity scheduling is an extension of CRP
that simulates job order stopping and starting to produce a detailed schedule that provides a set of start and finish dates for each operation at each work center.
Technology plays an essential role in capacity planning. Many companies rely on software to provide real-time inventory data, a task especially important in an increasingly globalized economy dependent on outsourcing. Furthermore, the technology sector itself requires extensive capacity planning in order to optimize network traffic. According to a Microsoft capacity-planning white paper, “Network planning can be compared to designing a town's road system. In both tasks, you need to understand who is using which routes, how large batches of traffic are (and can be), where journeys start, where they stop, and how all of these things vary over time.”
A failure to understand the critical nature of managing capacity can lead to chaos and serious customer service problems. If there is a mismatch between available and required capacity, adjustments should be made. However, it should be noted that firms cannot have perfectly-balanced material and capacity plans that easily accommodate emergency orders. If flexibility is the firm's competitive priority, excess capacity would be appropriate.
SEE ALSO Aggregate Planning; Manufacturing Resources Planning
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