Capacity Considerations in Outsourcing

Outsourcing analysis is made more complicated if a business is operating at capacity. If outsourcing will free up capacity to be used on other services or products, then the contribution margin associated with the additional services or products also becomes a relevant item in the decision process. In other words, if a company continues to manufacture a product in lieu of outsourcing, it foregoes the chance to produce the alternative product. The loss of this opportunity has a cost that must be considered in the final decision. Accountants (and economists and others) may use the term "opportunity cost" to describe the cost of foregone opportunities. It is appropriate to factor opportunity costs into any outsourcing analysis.

Illustration of Capacity Considerations

Mueller Building Systems manufactures customized steel components that are sold in kits for the do-it-yourself rancher. The kits include all of the parts necessary to easily construct metal barns of various shapes and sizes. Mueller's products are very popular and its USA manufacturing plants have been running at full capacity. In an effort to free up capacity, Mueller contracted with Zhang Manufacturing of China to produce all roof truss components to be included in the final kits. The capacity that was released by the outsourcing decision enabled a 10% increase in the total number of kits that were produced and sold. Mueller's accounting department prepared the following analysis that was used as a basis for negotiating the contract with Zhang:

Direct labor to produce trusses $ 3,800,000

Direct material to produce trusses 4,000,000

Variable factory overhead to produce trusses 2,000,000

Avoidable fixed factory overhead to produce trusses 1,000,000

Relevant costs to produce trusses $ 10,800,000

Contribution margin associated with 10% increase in kit production 3,000,000

Maximum amount to spend (including transportation) for purchased trusses $ 13,800,000

Notice that the analysis reveals that Mueller will reduce costs by only $10,800,000 via outsourcing, but can easily spend more than this on purchasing the same units. This results because the freed capacity will be used to produce additional contribution margin that would otherwise be foregone.

One must be very careful to fully capture the true cost of outsourcing. Oftentimes, the costs of placing and tracking orders, freight, customs fees, commissions, or other costs can be overlooked in the analysis. Likewise, if outsourcing results in employee layoffs, expect increases in unemployment taxes, potential acceleration of pension costs, and other costs that should not be ignored in the quantitative analysis. Finally, a situation like that faced by Mueller may indicate the need for additional capital expenditures to increase overall capacity. Capital budgeting decisions are covered later in this chapter.

Qualitative Issues in Outsourcing

Companies must be very careful to consider qualitative issues in making decisions about outsourcing. Outsourcing places quality control, production scheduling, and similar issues in the hands of a third party. One must continually monitor the supplier's financial health and ability to continue to deliver quality products on a timely basis. If goods are being moved internationally, goods may be subject to high freight costs, customs fees, taxes, and other costs. Delays are often associated with the uncertain logistics of moving goods through brokers, large sea ports, and homeland security inspections. Hopefully rare, but not to be ignored are risks associated with relying on suppliers in politically unstable environments; significant disruptions are not without precedent. Language barriers can be problematic. Although global trade is increasingly reliant on English, there are still many miscues brought about by a failure to have full and complete communication. Additionally, some global outsourcing can be met with customer resistance. Examples include frustrations with call centers and tech support lines where language barriers become apparent, and customer protest/rejection because of perceived unfair labor practices in certain global regions. Despite the potential problems, there are decided trends suggesting that the most successful businesses learn to utilize logical outsourcing opportunities in both local and global markets.

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