The State of Affairs in Manufacturing & Distribution

Manufacturing is on a downward trend after eight months of PMI (purchasing manager’s index) below 50. It dropped to 46 in June. China’s manufacturing also shrank for a third month in a row to a PMI of 49. Yet manufacturers backlogs remain relatively robust in many industries, leading executives perplexed on what to do about capacity shortfalls.

Logistics is in largely the same shape as the Logistics Manager’s Index (LMI) hit a new all-time low of 47.3 for May, down 3.6 points from April and operating in contraction territory for the first time. Thus, not surprisingly, the Freightos Baltic Index, which measures freight volumes and prices globally, shows average daily spot rates from China/East Asia to the U.S. West Coast at $1,324 per 40-foot container, down from more than $14,000 a year ago. Yet, products aren’t easy to find and get delivered on the rapid expectations consumers expect.

On the other hand, supply chains are on the move. Smart companies are reshoring, nearshoring/ friend-shoring, expanding manufacturing capacity and getting ready to scale up rapidly to meet customer expectations. As manufacturers struggle with rising interest rates and consumers focus on services, weak ones will get absorbed or go out of business, leaving an opportunity for those ready to take on the volumes. The same is true on the logistics front. As the West Coast ports struggle to finalize labor negotiations, container ships are on the move to the east coast, leaving distribution and transportation suppliers ready to support the volume with aggressive growth. It is a time where the winners and losers will separate, leaving vast opportunities for forward-thinking executives.

What are the Implications for Capacity Planning?

Companies need to expand capacity yet remain resilient and flexible so that they can also maximize profitability and accelerate cash flow. In order to do that, it is vital to get on top of your capacity capabilities. The majority of clients do not have clarity of their capacity (upcoming requirements as compared with available capacity). Thus, they struggle to know if they can take on customer orders and deliver it with the appropriate level of customer service (meeting the customers’ expected lead time and delivery performance with high OTIF (on-time-in-full)). When opportunities arise, poor service will kill the opportunity quickly. Also, if you don’t understand your capacity, you will not allocate it optimally and maximize your capacity; thus, losing profit opportunities.

Capacity planning is a key element of the SIOP (Sales Inventory Operations Planning) process: it takes your demand and translates it into your capacity requirements (manufacturing, equipment, storage, transportation, talent, etc.). By evaluating capacity, executives can get in front of changing business conditions and determine how to optimize their capacity to scale up or down quickly to meet key customer needs while maintaining margins.

Client Example: Using Manufacturing Capacity to Scale Up to Meet Sales Forecasts

In a storage manufacturer, a key to success is to have the capacity capabilities where needed when customers need it. As logistics changes occur (such as the transition from the west coast to the east coast), storage systems will adjust in concert. Since storage systems are bulky and freight costs of inbound and outbound freight is expensive, it is important to have capacity available where its needed at the “right” time.

It is not for the faint of heart to get a directional view of manufacturing capacity for a storage solutions manufacturer. The good news is that shop floor employees can move between machines and equipment to produce what’s needed; however, the bad news is that this makes understanding capacity availability challenging because not all products require the same number of people or skills to produce. By using a SIOP and demand planning process, customer orders, likely customer orders and quotes are available. Assuming engineering is on target in completing product designs, using a capacity planning process, this demand plan can be translated into directionally correct requirements (weight and hours) by plant and customer.

However, required machinery, equipment and labor requirements doesn’t provide valuable information if you can’t compare to available capacity. It sounds much easier than it is in reality due to the complexities. Typically in these types of operations, there are many different work centers (work areas) that are not alike in terms of capabilities and labor requirements. Similarly, products are not created equal; each product can require different numbers of people, different skills and it will go through multiple work centers before completion (fabrication, weld/ final assembly, paint). Storage requirements are also not created equal. Thus, a simple available capacity calculation across a work center or group of work centers is not feasible. However, using the forecast as well as historical run rates and weights by product, summarized by work center and production area can provide a directional view of available capacity.

Reviewing capacity requirements vs. available capacity by plant and production area will give Operations leaders their marching directions. For example, in one facility they had plenty of fabrication operators are had excess inventory of these parts yet customer service was suffering. The bottleneck was in weld operations, and so work in process (WIP) was stuck waiting for weld. As they trained weld operators and expanded the capabilities of a few fabrication operators, they were able to catch up and improve their OTIF (on-time-in-full) metrics.

As they gained a view into upcoming capacity, they could see potential bottlenecks in advance so that they could proactively handle them. For example, the plant could see that they had more requirements than capacity two months into the future; however, they could absorb it (level load) in advance if they could get engineering to complete the designs. Thus, a priority list was developed and managed with engineering. Additionally, they could evaluate whether they could fulfill a key customer project that another plant couldn’t handle on time and transfer the project to a nearby site so that it could be delivered on time without negatively impacting margin. On the other hand, if a critical project came up that required advanced manufacturing capabilities, they could see the impacts of transferring the volume to another facility with these capabilities and incorporate the cost impacts of the additional freight. They also had the opportunity to potentially transfer the volume to their Mexico facility which would add freight yet mitigate the labor costs. The bottom line is that capacity visibility supports revenue growth with minimal impact to profitability.

Client Example: Expanding to Storage, Freight , & Engineering Capacity

Although the focus has been on manufacturing capability, the next priorities are storage, freight and engineering capacity analyses. As the plants have the capability to see into the future and want to level load operations in a way that maximizes operational performance (running in the optimum sequence to minimize inefficiencies and waste), engineering capacity becomes the bottleneck. Seeing which orders / projects should be prioritized across sites will give a priority list to Engineering. If you add available engineering capacity into the picture, it might lead to hiring additional engineers or supplementing with short-term resources.

The same holds true for storage and freight capacity. Since the product is bulky and can only be stored outside for certain periods before fading, storage capacity should be managed. If you have significant customer orders coming down the pike, you could decide to produce ahead to keep customer service intact without adding unnecessary long-term manufacturing capacity. In this case, you could calculate storage capacity by region (to minimize freight costs). This goes hand-in-hand with transportation and freight capacity.

Final Thought

Capacity planning is cornerstone for any manufacturer or distributor as you must serve customers, maximize operational efficiencies, reduce waste, coordinate resources, right-size inventory levels, and execute plans.

Refer to our blog for many articles on capacity planning, production planning and related concepts. Also, read more about these types of strategies in our eBooks including SIOP (Sales Inventory Operations Planning): Creating Predictable Revenue and EBITDA Growth and The Road Ahead: Business, Supply Chain & the World Order. If you are interested in talking about implementing out best practices for production scheduling to drive cost reduction and inventory reduction while maximizing your customer experience, contact us.

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