Catch your runaway indirect costs – manufacturing overhead

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    How often did you work on a large-scale order, and once you dispatched the last package, it turned out there was no profit made, not to mention the anticipated earlier bonus? Alternatively, you might be under the impression that even though your workers do overtime and try their best – the production doesn’t progress as fast as it should, so you don’t make sufficient profit. 

    Why is that? Maybe a naughty pixie tries to mess up your business expenses calculation? The explanation is more direct – indirect costs or overhead expenses. They are rarely considered daily, and it’s easy to forget about little expenses for things like cleaning and security. However, they can significantly bump the actual manufacturing cost inside your manufacturing facility.

    Calculating manufacturing overhead can help to resolve this issue and bring to light all the costs you might have lost track of – here’s how exactly you can do it.

    What is Manufacturing Overhead?

    Manufacturing overhead expenses are all indirect costs incurred during the production process. This overhead is applied to the units produced within a reporting period.

    When you think of what costs you have outside of direct materials, labor and manufacturing processes, you might be overwhelmed by the thoughts that cross your mind. But are there so many details that cost your business money? And some of them might even change as your production volume increases or falls those – those are called variable overhead costs.

    First, of course, we are talking here only about indirect costs linked to manufacturing (so forget marketing, sales, or administration).

    Let’s look at a few examples of overhead expenses:

    Depreciation on equipment

    The entire equipment used in your manufacturing facility keeps decaying – your equipment doesn’t last forever, and it’s always costing you something even if you don’t know it), so depreciation basically refers to how much an asset decreases in value over time. 

    Salaries of your staff

    Direct labor costs are a second place where overhead costs might be hiding. You might think it obvious but remember also to include quality control, technologists, cleaners, maintenance, security guards, etc. 

    Supplies not directly associated with products

    Indirect materials (such as manufacturing forms) are all extra bits and pieces that go into making your product, which wouldn’t stand out on first look. This could also repair parts, general supplies, cleaning chemicals and even wasted materials, and computer systems such as MRP management software


    Utility bills are a broad category as they include building rent, water bills, internet, electricity bills, gas, property taxes, and even insurance, as long as they are related to manufacturing. 

    Calculating manufacturing overhead

    To calculate your manufacturing overhead rate, you must add all the indirect company-related expenses incurred in manufacturing a product (indirect materials, indirect labor, machine repairs, depreciation, factory supplies, insurance, electricity, and more).

    You have to be aware of these invisible costs of a manufacturing process that build in the background. Otherwise, you’ll check your end-of-year balance and find it looking slimmer than expected.

    That forgotten machine setup, hours spent on technical drawing, and a few cheeky breaks for a ciggie your workers are happy to take every day to add up.

    And these hidden costs will keep on building up on your statement unless you take the time to reduce the unnecessary ones and take back control.

    Calculating production in practice – how to calculate manufacturing overhead

    Usually, manufacturing overheads are calculated per product annually while the business owners create their financial reporting statements.

    If you’re a small business, it will be helpful to do it even more often than that. The effects of your overheads could be pretty drastic throughout the year, and you wouldn’t know until you checked.

    Let’s take a look at some fantasy numbers. Imagine making pretty unique coffee tables, so the demand is constantly growing. What are your invisible costs? 

    Indirect labor costs

    Somebody has to clean all the dust, as sawing can be messy. You don’t want the woodchips and bits to get everywhere, so you have a deal with a cleaning company – they come to sort things out and send a monthly invoice. 

    Let’s assume that it comes to 1800$ per year. 

    Indirect materials and depreciation

    It’s good to remember that your piece of equipment doesn’t last forever, and it’s always costing you something, even if you don’t count it. So how much does it cost?

     Let’s round it to 400$ per year for materials. 

    What about depreciation? If a particular saw is estimated to cost 2100 $ and it lasts seven years, the potential annual depreciation is:

    2100 $ / 7 = 300 $

    These numbers are a bit far-fetched, but we only want to show you what invisible costs are hidden in your business. 


    Unfortunately, you can’t make hundreds of tables in your living room. You must pay rent for your workshop, bills, gas, water, electricity, etc. How much? Between 9000-15000$ a year for a small/medium-sized workshop. 

    Let’s agree on 10000$ annual costs.

    Now that we have all the numbers worked out, we can add them and get our total indirect costs.

    1800 + 400+ 300 + 10000 = 12500 $ per year

    How many tables a year do you make? Let’s say that 600 tables. So what is the total manufacturing overhead? 

    Total indirect costs / Number of items produced = 12500/ 600= 20.83 $ 

    That is the factory overhead per single item.

    How to reduce manufacturing overhead?

    Of course, the aim is to run the cost down, so every little difference we make here will contribute to the total savings.

    Here are some ideas on how you can hammer those costs down:

    Set budget

    Once you get your indirect costs worked out, start setting targets for getting them down. If you review these every few months, by the end of the year, you will be surprised at the difference you have made; 

    Reduce waste

    If your materials get broken or damaged, they result in indirect materials costs. Try to see where the most significant waste is coming from and tackle your production planning strategy head-on; 

    Save where you can

    You have plenty of options here – for example, you can use energy-saving light bulbs and encourage everyone to be frugal with their water usage. Every drop counts and mother nature will be pleased too.

    Talk to your staff

    The best people to help reduce indirect costs are the people that spend the most time in your workshop. More than likely, they’ll have some unique ideas for tweaks here and there. 

    Shop around

    Compare various offers to find the best suppliers to cut down on energy, gas, etc., bills. You might well be paying more than you should for your utilities, especially if you are taking them all from one place.

    Save on software

    Implementing ERP systems can be overkill in terms of features and cost. It is not worth paying for sophisticated software you don’t need. That’s why maker-focused manufacturing systems like Prodio management software are much more appropriate for small manufacturers. You benefit from simple and useful functionalities such as shop floor control and time tracking, manufacturing management, and inventory.

    How can Prodio software be the right tool to reduce your manufacturing overhead?

    Implementing the right software is usually a good starting point for reducing manufacturing overhead – it’s too easy to overspend on a system beyond your needs and come back to square one using pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets.

    On the other hand, the big bucks ERP system is usually too complex for a small manufacturing company.

    Keeping an eye on manufacturing overhead is a clever thing, not only from the accounting perspective. As the owner of a manufacturing company, you should have full shop floor control. Of course, it’s not going to be a core piece of information for your running of the business, but the effects on your profit margins will be there.

    But by breaking it down, you can see how you can increase your profit margins through straightforward changes. In addition, Prodio manufacturing software has been designed with the maker’s needs in mind, so you won’t be paying for features you’ll never use.

    You can benefit from: 

    Work history

    This bookmark is an easily accessible vault of information regarding the working history of the whole company. Every clock in and clock out is saved with information about the quantity and number of shortages, raw material consumption, or deficiencies. In the background, Prodio measures the efficiency. If there was a norm set for a particular product, it also shows how many percent of this norm an individual employee achieved.

    Using clever filters lets you find any required operation in your work history, giving you almost unlimited summing possibilities.

    Using clever filters lets you find any required operation in your work history, giving you almost unlimited summing possibilities. 

    Total order calculation

    Using this feature, you can quickly check how long it took to complete your order and whether there were any discrepancies between the estimated time and lead time. It should be one of your favorite functions from the manufacturing overhead perspective.

    There you will find: 

    • Total number of working hours your employees spent at production divided by particular operations.
    • Number of working hours for all operations for a given position
    • Estimated times are based on the product’s technology, suggesting the lead time.

    This simple table will show you whether the estimated time was sufficient and the whole production was profitable for a particular order.

    manufacturing overhead time

    Advanced reports

    When it comes to advanced production cost tracking, each company does it differently, so creating a standardized report in Prodio would be impossible.

    That’s why we prepared a complete Excel export tool, so you could source required data, as well as the whole working history and have it saved on your hard drive independently.

    When you use for production accounting the number of pieces made rate, you will find here everything you need: 

    • employee name and surname,
    • type of operation,
    • a number of parts produced
    • dates, etc. 

    So just one cross tab and you are ready to sign paychecks 🙂 

    Crosstables are the best ways to get your reports, so we recommend them.

    Advanced productivity analyses

    You can verify aggregated machine occupancy in particular weeks of the year (both for past and upcoming periods based on production schedule) and compare the productivity of your whole production and the productivity of a specific employee – the percentage of time spent on machine work (clock in and clock out times), the total sum of working hours and time paid at work daily, weekly and monthly. 

    HR and payroll reports

    Thanks to a simple built-in Time and Attendance Tracking module in Prodio, your accountant / external accounting firm will have much more manageable tasks. These features mentioned above mean more control over spending your money and resources because you’ll be saving on manufacturing overhead costs whilst tackling your direct costs simultaneously.

    manufacturing overhead time

    Amazing how much a single software solution can help you with, right? Want to see whether Prodio can really lower your manufacturing expenses? Then, how about you will meet us for a demo presentation or try out our free 14-day trial? You’ll be amazed by how much clearer your financial management can become with the real-time data coming from our app.


    Of course, it’s not exactly possible to cut your manufacturing overhead to zero. But you can significantly lower it to the point it will stop being a drain on your budget. For this though, you need plenty of data – ideally real-time one. Good news, though – our Prodio can give you this and far more. With it, you can spot where your money is leaking and figure out how you can save the money. Plus, the amount of time you can save with Prodio can also turn into massive budget savings for your company.

    So it’s time to finally catch those runaway indirect costs – and prevent them from appearing ever again.

    Manufacturing overhead FAQ

    What are manufacturing overhead costs?

    Manufacturing overhead costs are all indirect costs associated with producing goods. They are not directly related to the manufacturing process itself but still contribute to the overall cost of production. Typically, manufacturing overhead costs include labor costs, utilities, repair and maintenance expenses, wasted material costs, and administrative expenses.

    How are manufacturing overhead costs different from direct costs?

    Direct costs can be easily traced back to a specific product or task. For example, direct machine hours, raw materials used, labor hours, or any other financial costs related to the manufacturing process.

    Manufacturing overhead costs meanwhile aren’t related to the products but rather to the costs of managing the manufacturing building and equipment. 

    Even more tricky is that while direct costs stay more or less the same, the indirect expenses are made of several variable costs that change depending on demand.

    In what way are manufacturing overhead costs calculated?

    Manufacturing managers typically calculate the overhead costs by adding up all the indirect costs that happened during the production process and then dividing the overhead by the number of units produced. For example, the total manufacturing overhead of $20,000 divided by 10,000 units produced is $2.

    Does manufacturing overhead impact product costs?

    Manufacturing overhead costs are typically included in the product costs, so in that way, they can significantly impact the overall cost of a product.

    What can production managers do to reduce manufacturing overhead costs?

    There are multiple methods that production managers can use to lower their overhead costs and, consequently, the costs of production. For example, implementing cost-saving measures such as reducing energy consumption and material waste or keeping a close eye on the equipment state. 

    By using manufacturing management software, factory plant managers can also significantly reduce the amount of time they need to spend on paperwork and this way, lower their administrative costs.


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