Using data from 62 automobile assembly plants worldwide, we examine the extent to which various structural cost drivers (plant scale, automation, and product mix complexity) and exe‐cutionalcost drivers (product manufacturability, management policies, and production practices) account for plant‐level differences in manufacturing overhead. Our analysis of structural drivers finds that overhead hours per vehicle are negatively associated with production volumes, consistent with economies of scale in overhead functions. However, automation appears to have little influence on overhead levels. Product mix complexity's effect on overhead requirements varies with the complexity's form and the plant's manufacturing capabilities. Option and parts complexity (measures of peripheral and intermediate product variety) both exhibit adverse effects on overhead, reflecting the considerable logistical, coordination, and supervisory challenges that accompany an increased number of parts and more complex manufacturing tasks. In contrast, model mix complexity (a measure of fundamental variety) appears to have little impact on direct or overhead labor requirements in auto assembly plants. Our analysis of executional drivers provides empirical support for the claim that advanced manufacturing practices such as the reduction of buffers, multiskilled production workers, and the use of teams can lower overhead costs. We also find preliminary evidence that the lower overhead costs in Japanese auto assembly plants are due primarily to the use of multiskilled work teams and the shifting of traditional overhead activities to production workers. Overall, our results indicate that manufacturing overhead is a function not only of the structural cost drivers that have dominated the academic literature but also of executional cost drivers that are harder to duplicate and therefore potentially more valuable for achieving competitive advantage.
Production and Operations Management – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1995
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