There are No Economies of Scale … Just Economic Production Quantities

As the public defender likes to point out on a regular basis over on Spend Matters UK / Europe, economies of scale is a procurement myth. The idea that the more you buy, the bigger discount you can get because the cost diminishes is a myth because, if it were not, if you could buy a large enough quantity, then the cost would eventually get close to 0 per unit.

But the reality is that there are always hard costs that cannot be reduced in the supply chain … particularly those components that involve human labour — product creation, product transportation, product component creation, product component transportation, raw material mining, raw material component transportation, security guards for storage, etc. — and facility leases, utility cost, taxes, etc.

And there are always limits to “economies of scale” production lot sizes. If the line can only do 60 units per hour, then the line can only do 2400 in a normal workweek, 4800 in a double shift work week, 7200 in a triple shift work week and maxes out at 10,080 a week … assuming no downtime (and most lines will require some maintenance). In this case, the major economies of scale are 2400, 4800, and 7200 — as this insures that the labour cost (and facility costs) are spread over the maximum number of units.

In other words, there are economic production quantities (EPQ) where the price per unit is minimized, and this is the optimal economy of scale.

So if you really want to minimize your costs, you can start by minimizing your supplier, and carrier costs, which can be done by appropriately distributing the award across suppliers in economic production quantities that can allow them to give you larger discounts (and still retain a reasonable margin). So how do you do that? Considering that each supplier has a different EPQ, each carrier has a different EPQ, and this varies by product (and plant location), how can you possibly figure out how to split in such a way that you can enable suppliers to reduce their bids?

If you’re a regular reader of Sourcing Innovation, you know the answer. A decision optimization platform …

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