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Tutorial to Excel Solver for the Solution

of Linear Programming Models

By Dr Muhammad Al-Salamah

Last updated 11/13/2009 09:11:05

Excel Solver has proven itself to be the most easily accessible utility for mathematical
programming and the solution of mathematical equations in general. Solver comes
with Excel, hence, no further expenses are incurred. For some users, the appeal of
Solver lies in its graphical interface, which does not require variable definitions
necessary in other optimization software packages. Solver has its own options and
setups; but the default values most often are adequate and are rarely changed.

This tutorial is built around a manufacturing planning decision problem, and the
problem will be utilized to show how Solver can be used to solve it.

Manufacturing Planning Decision

Bright Man Company manufactures shmaq and qutra for East Alkobar store. East
Alkobar accepts all the production supplied by Bright Man. The production process
includes cutting of sheets, sewing, and packaging. Bright Man employs 25 workers in
the cutting department, 35 in the sewing department, and 5 in the packaging
department. The factory works one 8-hour shift, 5 days a week. The following table
gives the time requirements and profits per unit for the two garments:

Minutes per unit

Kind Cutting Sewing Packing
Shmaq 20 70 12
Qutra 60 60 4

The industrial engineer has to plan the weekly production, which requires him to
determine how many shmaq and qutra to produce. Knowing that his company is
driven by profit and better efficiency means more money, he chooses to find the
optimal production mix that will maximize the profit. The prices of the two garments
are as:

Unit profit
Shmaq 80
Qutra 120
The variables in this production planning problem are the production amounts of
shmaq and qutra:

x1= number of shmaq produced in a week

x2= number of qutra produced in a week

Hence, the linear programming model can be written as

Excel Worksheet Setup

The graphic interface provided by Excel makes the presentation and entering the
problem data easier. There are two rules in preparing the problem for Solver:

1. Every decision variable has to have its own cell.

2. Every function (objective function and constraints) is defined in an
individual cell, with reference to the decision variables.

The production mix problem can be concisely represented in a table form inside
Excel, and the cells containing the definition of the variables and the functions are
added to the table:
Once the worksheet is setup, Solver can be called to solve the problem.

The Solver dialog box has five areas that are necessary to define the components of
the LP model to Solver, and these areas are illustrated in the following figure:
The Set Target Cell should point to the cell containing the definition of the objective
function. The direction of optimization has to be specified by choosing either 'Max' or
'Min'. The variables and their cells are referenced in By Changing Cells area. The
constraints are defined in the constraint area Subject to the Constraints. The
constraints are defined by entering the reference cell, the direction of inequality, and
the resource availability. The Solver options are necessary to specify the non-
negativity requirement. The Solver dialog box should look like this:

When the definition of the LP model is entered, Solver can be called to solve it by
pressing 'Solve' button. If the problem has a solution, Solver should report that 'Solver
found a solution':
Clicking OK will remove the box and keep the solution on the worksheet. For the
production mix problem, the optimal solution is for the industrial engineer to plan to
produce 480 units of shmaq and 840 units of qutra every week.

Raw mathematical model in Excel

The excellent graphical interface Excel provides makes it possible to enter the
mathematical model in many forms. Another way to write the mathematical model in
Excel is to write it as it is given; that is, to write in the function definition the
coefficients of the variables.

In a similar way, each variable and function has to be defined in an individual cell.
For the current LP model, there are 2 variables and 4 functions; hence, 6 cells have to
be selected. The worksheet with the proper definitions of variables and functions
looks like this:

Now, Solver can be called with the proper references to the cells in the worksheet.
Discrete Variables in Excel
Discrete variables, whether integer or binary, are frequently used in most decision
and planning models. In Excel, a particular decision variable is designated as integer
or binary by adding a constraint to the original constraints. When the Add Constraint
dialog box is opened, the nature of the variable is specified from the dropdown menu
in the middle of the dialog box: