Experience Curve

Updated on January 29, 2024
Article byKosha Mehta
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Experience Curve?

The experience curve is a concept that illustrates the relationship between cumulative production experience and the average cost per unit of production. Its purpose is that the average cost per unit decreases constantly as the cumulative production doubles.

Experience Curve

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The experience curve demonstrates that increasing experience allows companies to identify more efficient production methods, streamline processes, and reduce costs, enhancing competitiveness and profitability. It is important as it helps businesses plan their long-term strategies by anticipating cost reductions and pricing adjustments. It allows companies to estimate the time required to achieve cost targets.

Key Takeaways

  • The experience curve demonstrates that companies can reduce costs as cumulative production increases by becoming more efficient and leveraging economies of scale. This cost advantage allows businesses to offer competitive prices while maintaining profitability.
  • It can lead to a sustainable competitive advantage. Companies that consistently reduce production costs gain an edge over rivals, attracting more customers and increasing market share.
  • Understanding the experience curve is crucial for long-term strategic planning. It helps businesses anticipate cost trends, set realistic pricing, and allocate resources effectively, supporting growth and success in dynamic markets.

Experience Curve Explained

The experience curve describes the relationship between cumulative production experience and the average cost per unit of production. The underlying idea is that as a company produces more units of a product, it gains experience and learns how to produce more efficiently, reducing production costs over time.

The experience curve is based on several key principles:

  1. Learning and Efficiency: Workers and management gain experience and become more proficient in their tasks, leading to improved efficiency and productivity. This often results from a better understanding of production processes, reducing errors, and finding more effective ways to complete tasks.
  2. Process Innovation: Experience often drives innovation and the adoption of new technologies and methods, which can further enhance production efficiency and reduce costs.
  3. Standardization: Standardizing production processes and components can lead to more streamlined operations and cost savings.

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Reasons

Let us have a look at the reasons:

  1. Economies of Scale: Increased production volume allows companies to use economies of scale. Bulk purchasing of materials and components and spreading fixed costs over larger units can significantly reduce the average cost per unit.
  2. Process Standardization: As organizations gain experience, they tend to standardize processes. Standardization simplifies tasks, minimizes errors, and allows for better resource allocation, contributing to cost reductions.
  3. Learning from Mistakes: Experience provides opportunities to learn from mistakes and inefficiencies. As companies encounter challenges, they can find solutions and implement corrective actions, improving overall efficiency.
  4. Employee Experience: Experienced employees are more familiar with their roles and can work more effectively. Higher job proficiency results in fewer errors reduced training costs, and increased overall productivity.

Examples

Let us have a look at the examples to understand the concept better. 

Example #1

Let’s assume a company, ABC Electronics, that manufactures smartphones. At the beginning of its operations, ABC Electronics incurred high production costs due to limited experience and efficiency in manufacturing processes. The cost per unit of producing a smartphone is $300.

As the company starts producing more smartphones and gains experience, it begins to identify areas where it can optimize production, reduce waste, and implement more efficient techniques. With each doubling of cumulative production, ABC Electronics observes a consistent average cost-per-unit reduction of 20%.

After manufacturing 1,000 smartphones, the average cost per unit drops to $240. With the production of the next 1,000 smartphones, the cost per unit further decreases to $192, and so on.

As the experience curve continues to influence their operations, ABC Electronics can competitively price their smartphones, leading to increased sales and market share. Additionally, the company can allocate more resources to research and development, staying at the forefront of technological advancements, further accelerating the experience curve effect.

Example #2

Suppose SolarTech Solutions enters the solar panel market with a production cost of $500 per panel. After manufacturing 2,000 panels, the cost was reduced to $400 (20% reduction). At 5,000 panels, it further decreases to $320 (20% reduction); at 10,000 panels, it reaches $280 (12.5% reduction). The cost reductions enable SolarTech Solutions to offer competitive prices, attract more customers, and invest in R&D for cutting-edge solar technologies, establishing a strong position in the renewable energy market.

Advantages

Let us have a look at the key advantages:

  1. Cost Efficiency: One of the most significant advantages of the experience curve is cost efficiency. As companies gain experience and expertise, they can produce goods or services at lower costs per unit. This cost advantage allows them to price their products competitively while maintaining profitability.
  2. Competitive Edge: By leveraging the experience curve, companies can gain a competitive edge over their rivals. Lower production costs enable businesses to offer products at more attractive prices or invest in product enhancements, making them more appealing to customers.
  3. Increased Profitability: As production costs decrease with experience, the gap between costs and selling prices widens, leading to higher profit margins. This improved profitability allows companies to invest in research and development, marketing, and expansion.
  4. Barriers to Entry: Companies with a steeper experience curve can create significant barriers to entry for new competitors. New entrants may struggle to match the cost efficiencies of established players, making it harder for them to gain market share.
  5. Sustainable Growth: The experience curve fosters sustainable growth for businesses. As companies continue to improve efficiency, they can maintain competitiveness and profitability, supporting long-term success.

Limitations

Let us look at some limitations:

  1. Assumption of Cumulative Volume: The experience curve assumes that cost reductions are solely driven by cumulative production volume. While this is often true, other factors, such as technological changes, market dynamics, and external events, can also influence costs.
  2. Learning Saturation: The rate of cost reduction may slow down or plateau after reaching a certain level of experience. At a certain point, organizations might exhaust the potential for significant cost savings through experience alone.

Experience Curve vs Learning Curve

Let us look at the differences between the experience curve and the learning curve.

ParametersExperience CurveLearning Curve
DefinitionIllustrates cost reduction with cumulative experienceDepicts the relationship between learning and production
FocusCumulative production experienceIndividual or organizational learning and proficiency
Cost ReductionDriven by production experience and economies of scaleArises from individual skill improvement and knowledge
Time DependencyRequires time to manifest cost reductionsExhibits immediate cost improvements with each iteration
Scope of ApplicationTypically applicable to entire organizations or industriesOften applied to specific tasks or processes
ApplicabilitySuitable for standardized, mass-produced products or servicesRelevant for repetitive or routine activities

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What factors influence the experience curve?

Several factors influence the experience curve’s manifestation. The first factor is the learning effect, where repetition makes individuals or organizations more skilled and efficient. Economies of scale play a significant role, as increased production volume allows companies to spread fixed costs. Process standardization and innovation also contribute to efficiency gains. Efficient resource allocation ensures optimal use of available inputs and reduces waste.

2. Is the experience curve applicable to all industries?

While the experience curve finds its strongest application in standardized, mass-produced products or services, its principles can be adapted to various industries and tasks. Industries with repetitive processes and large production volumes are more likely to benefit from the experience curve’s cost efficiencies. However, even in unique or custom manufacturing, certain aspects, like learning from experience and identifying efficiency improvements, can still play a role in reducing costs.

3. How can businesses use the experience curve to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market?

Businesses can use the experience curve to stay competitive by continuously focusing on process improvement and innovation in a rapidly changing market. As they gain experience, companies should invest in research and development to adopt new technologies and best practices. This approach will help them sustain cost reductions while delivering improved products or services.

This article has been a guide to what is Experience Curve. Here, we compare it with learning curve, explain its examples, advantages, and limitations. You may also find some useful articles here –

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