By Victor Viser, Ph.D.
Cost accounting in manufacturing answers the simple question: “Am I making money on this job, and if not then why not?”. Cost accounting is a bridge between financial and management accounting and is a technique used to address the demands of both. It is a systematic application that takes all events in the supply chain and translates them into financial values for analyses by various people both inside and outside the company operations. The most important results of the analyses are findings by which management can reduce manufacturing costs while improving profitability, especially in the multi-sequence operations of manufacturing. While there are several ways to approach cost accounting (e.g., activity-based, throughput, etc.), the generally accepted accounting principles most in line with manufacturing operations are standard cost accounting and weighted average cost accounting. In both standard cost and weighted average cost accounting, managers can best assess production profit results as they are related to a formula for the “standard cost” of manufacturing a product.
In general terms, the computation of manufacturing cost involves many methods and techniques to define the components of cost, as well as determining what will be the basis of cost measurement such as historical cost, market value, and/or actual cost. For managers, the simple point of cost accounting is to determine why production costs are different than what they were planned (or estimated) to be, and then to take the appropriate corrective action. In an integrated enterprise resource planning operation (ERP), where work orders, shop floor routers, and travelers define the job sequencing for a generated sales order, each aspect of the sequence is reviewed in terms of actual versus estimated cost to attempt to discover those production steps than are deviating the most from the planned cost. In focusing so closely upon the production sequence, each and every step can be macroanalyzed in terms of cost as it is related to variables such as volume of output, material, and labor time for production.
For example, to discover actual versus estimate discrepancies in a particular work center or production sequence, management can look to things such as scrap piece counts, set-up times/cost, and material costs as they concern specific sequences. As such data is accumulated, it is easier to come to an understanding as to what specific aspect or sequence in production is costing more than the estimate, and why it is doing so. For those manufacturers utilizing more robust ERP software systems, managers can quickly and easily see actual dollar costs against individual production activities, as well as finding opportunities to streamline operations and reduce costs. If needed, as a result of cost accounting a manager can even determine whether they should eliminate the entire production activity, especially if there is no value added or profit to be made.
With accurate and regular job cost accounting facilitated by ERP software, the modern manufacturer gains a competitive edge through the routine maintenance of cost efficiencies. Indeed, as corrections, as a result of cost accounting, are made in the production system to alleviate inefficient or non-profitable sequences, actual costs come into closer alignment with estimated costs, and in doing so provide a more predictable bottom-line.
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