What is Ramp Up
Ramp up is a significant increase in the level of output of a company's products or services. A ramp up typically occurs in anticipation of an imminent increase in demand. While it is generally a feature of smaller companies at an early stage of development, a ramp up can also be undertaken by large companies that are rolling out new products or expanding in new geographies.
BREAKING DOWN Ramp Up
A ramp up entails substantial outlays of capital expenditures and human resource expenses. For this reason, a company will generally only consider a ramp up once it has a reasonable degree of certainty about additional demand. Otherwise, if the anticipated demand does not materialize or is below projected levels, the company will be saddled with excess inventory and surplus capacity. "Ramp up" can also be applied to a larger-than-normal increase in expenses. Alluding to the foregoing, if a company states that it will ramp up production of goods it could also say that it will ramp up the purchase of automation equipment to support the planned capacity expansion.
Ramp up is a term that rolls off the lips of confident executives who expect propitious economic conditions in general and brisk demand for their products in particular. Rarely will a company publicly state that it is ramping down. On Allegheny Technologies' (ATI) Q4 2017 earnings conference call, an executive VP begins his section of the call with the following comments: "...the high performance materials and components segment continues to benefit from the ongoing next-generation jet engine production ramps by all of the engine OEMs. These production ramps result in both sales and margin growth for ATI due to improved product mix, volume growth and increased asset utilization. We are still in the early phases of this industry-wide production expansion and we expect the benefits to ATI to continue in 2018 and through the end of the decade." The ramps the executive is speaking of are certainly not incremental in nature.
On the Constellation Brands' 3Q 2017 earnings conference call, the CFO explains that "Q4 operating margin is expected to moderate, primarily due to lower seasonal production volume combined with the continued ramp up in depreciation, line commissioning costs and headcount additions."
When "ramp up" comes up in press releases or on conference calls, it typically signals management confidence in the future of the business. The prudent investor, however, should be on the watch for too much exuberance.