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When Do You Use Solver?

Solver is a powerful tool that most Excel users don't need. It would be overkill, for example, to use Solver to compute net profit given fixed revenue and cost figures. Many problems, however, require nothing less than the Solver approach. These problems cover many different fields and situations, but they all have the following characteristics in common:

  • They have a single target cell that contains a formula you want to maximize, minimize, or set to a specific value. This formula could be a calculation, such as total transportation expenses or net profit.

  • The target cell formula contains references to one or more changing cells (also called unknowns or decision variables). Solver adjusts these cells to find the optimal solution for the target cell formula. These changing cells might include items such as units sold, shipping costs, or advertising expenses.

  • Optionally, there are one or more constraint cells that must satisfy certain criteria. For example, you might require that advertising be less than 10% of total expenses, or that the discount to customers be a number between 40% and 60%.


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