This section is from the "Modern Machine Shop Construction, Equipment, And Management" book, by Oscar E. Perrigo. Also see Amazon: Modern Machine Shop Construction, Equipment, And Management.
To show the great diversity of opinions and practices in the matter of ascertaining and apportioning the burden of fixed and miscellaneous charges in different shops at the present time, the following instances are given as stated by the manufacturers or the accountants themselves. They show the views of the several gentlemen and the various methods used under the varying conditions of manufacturing, as well as the great variety of the product.
In one manufactory the man who has charge of the cost-keeping says that a great deal of good judgment is necessary in distributing the fixed charges and the cost of non-productive labor, but thinks that if all money paid out for these expenses is charged to some account all will be well. It is true that a good deal of good judgment is necessary; in fact in the best and most exact system for ascertaining and apportioning the multitude of expense items we may find problems solvable by no common rule. These must of necessity be decided by the highest rule of all, the rule of judgment, founded upon practice and experience. It is not enough to say that we may simply charge the large variety of expenses to some account and then expect any reasonable degree of accuracy in ascertaining detailed costs, for the reason, as before stated, that we shall overcharge some articles of the product while others do not bear fair share of the normal burden of expense.
Another manufacturer says that the expense of the entire superintendent's department, including foremen, plumbers, electricians, watchmen, the drawing room, general repair department, pattern shop, etc., should be considered as non-productive, while the next manufacturer says, "In our factory we do not recognize that there is any such thing as non-productive costs. All factory costs with us are productive costs, because they enter into the costs of goods produced." Here is a wide divergence of opinion and practice.
Again, a manufacturer has this method. He has a fixed price per hour for each machine and the man who runs it. This charge added to the cost of material is the "flat cost," to which is added a percentage of fixed and nonproductive costs as ascertained month by month, or once in three months. This plan comes nearer being correct, provided the proper method is used to determine the amount charged on account of the machine.
At present it is sufficient to call attention to the fact that the correct valuation of the machines, the floor space occupied, the power required, and what we shall do with the cost of those that are occasionally or frequently idle, as they occupy the floor space, which must be kept clean with the machine, and this costs, excepting power and lubrication, as much as if the machine were performing profitable operations, is a matter of much importance.
Still another manufacturer gets at his non-productive costs by the percentage which this amount bears to the combined labor and material costs. The resulting percentage is used for the next six months and so on. The fixed percentage can be added to each class of goods manufactured, or to individual machines, or even to machine parts. It would not be accurate if any one important item had fluctuated considerably in price, as is frequently the case, for the reason that an extra high price paid for a leading material, as pig iron for instance, in cases where large quantities of castings are used, would burden the job with more of the non-productive costs than it ought to bear, and correspondingly reduce those burdens on other jobs which required proportionately small quantities of iron castings. It is therefore evident that this plan is open to very serious objections.
Another manufacturer divides what he calls "miscellaneous charges," not including interest, rent, insurance, etc., into no less than fifty-seven accounts, one of which contains seventy-five subheads or classes. This would seem like an unnecessary number of accounts and a plan by which the practical information to be gained would hardly be worth the care and cost. While these various items enter into the calculations of non-productive miscellaneous costs, and it may be useful to know the cost of the different classes of material and supplies purchased at different periods, or supplied to the various departments, for purposes of comparison, these considerations need not necessarily become a part of the cost system, by which we understand the actual expenses of all kinds properly chargeable to the production of the goods when ready for the market, under whatever particular heading they may be charged.
The next manufacturer, perceiving the point that the value and usefulness of the machines, and their cost as to floor space occupied, power required to drive them, and their maintenance, are proper factors in the problem of accounting for costs, proposes that in calculating a percentage of depreciation on the value of a machine, "the life of each machine should be learned as nearly as possible and the percentage of that life which would be used in making a given number of articles should be charged against such given number," etc., a sort of "life expectancy," as the life insurance man would say, but what cost clerk would want to serve as an "actuary" in an establishment where there are several hundred machines and as many different kinds of parts or articles to estimate upon. This plan would call for additional clerical assistance, which is one of the conditions we seek to avoid. We must not forget, however, that some such plan would be valuable in considering large and expensive machines which are not in continuous use, and are often idle for days and perhaps weeks. In such cases the interest charge is relatively high and the depreciation charge relatively low compared with less expensive machines in practically continuous use. These considerations add to this many-sided problem and render it more perplexing as we endeavor to give the varied factors proper attention and weight.