4 inventory challenges during a manufacturing external audit

Andrea M. Meinardi, Beau Schwegman
4 inventory challenges during manufacturing external audit

Common inventory issues can add complexity to a manufacturing audit. Learn solutions to address them, both before and during the audit.

Manufacturers often face unique challenges during their financial statement audit. Most of these issues focus on inventory and its related accounting procedures. But an experienced independent auditor that understands the manufacturing industry can serve companies navigating those challenges.

As manufacturers prepare for an upcoming audit, they should be mindful of four issues that can add complexity.

Audit findings can set the stage for business improvements. Follow this manufacturer checklist to discover opportunities. 

1. Time-consuming physical inventory counts 

Auditors are required to observe manufacturer inventory counts. They analyze and test those counts for accuracy and determine how well the count matches inventory records. But a physical count of a company’s entire inventory – often performed annually – can be time-consuming and disruptive, since the business might shut down for several days or longer during the count.

If a manufacturer cannot perform the count at year-end because the organization is too busy to shut down, it must perform an inventory rollback or rollforward procedure to determine the year-end inventory quantities, thus requiring auditors to spend time testing the inventory rollback or rollforward.


  • Cycle counting can be performed in place of a physical count. With this method, a manufacturer counts its inventory in small amounts over the year with all inventory items being counted at least once throughout the year rather than all at once.
  • Investing in inventory management software or automation technologies also might speed up inventory counts, increase accuracy, and limit human error.
  • Manufacturers should consult with their external auditor to learn how similar companies approach inventory counts and make the process more efficient.

2. Poor inventory management

An external audit will proceed far more smoothly for a manufacturer that closely tracks, in real time, the quantity and cost of materials in its warehouses, where they’re located, how they’re being used, and what inventory will be needed in the near future.

Conversely, poor inventory management is a top contributor to audit complexity. A lack of inventory controls, discrepancies across locations, poor labeling, and other issues make inventory testing more challenging for an auditor. These challenges might require an auditor to pursue additional observation and testing.


  • Company management can address inventory issues in myriad ways – from inventory software to smarter purchasing and storage solutions – and reap numerous business benefits.
  • Manufacturers should consult with external auditors with deep experience in their industry who will have insights into navigating inventory management challenges – because they’ve likely already encountered similar challenges with previous clients – and can demonstrate skilled judgment. They’ll know which questions to ask, where to seek additional information, and which managers to pull into discussions, saving time and reducing frustration.

3. Price testing and inaccurate standard costs 

Auditors must test and verify that inventory values are accurate. But when the standard costs (predetermined costs as opposed to actual costs) assigned by the company are outdated or inaccurate, price testing becomes more complex. For example, in a volatile economy, the price of freight, labor, and raw materials can fluctuate dramatically. Incorrect standard costing can lead to dramatically undervalued or overvalued inventory at standard and variances that can be hard to test.

Another potential complexity: Inventory cost variances can be capitalized, but companies need a clear process in place to capture variances and capitalize them on the balance sheet. Without well-defined processes, auditors might spend unplanned time and effort auditing capitalized variances.


  • Companies might need to update their standard costs more frequently than once a year (a typical practice) to reflect the latest market prices.
  • Companies also can consider a more granular cost review of a specific item when its cost changes by a certain percentage (for example, 10%).
  • Manufacturers can consult with auditors that have manufacturing experience to identify standard cost discrepancies and best practices.

4. Outdated or limited IT systems

Manufacturers with older IT systems might struggle to pull important data needed by the auditor. For example, a more limited system might not be able to access complete purchase histories, or an older system might alter a transaction date, making it difficult to pinpoint the age of an inventory item. Auditors and management then must take valuable time to troubleshoot these issues.


  • A manufacturer should consider an upgrade to its enterprise resource planning system or other IT tools that help manage core business processes.
  • Manufacturers might select a technology platform – such as Microsoft Power BITM – to import and analyze raw data (sales usage, sales by item, last purchased, last used) for audit purposes.

Microsoft and Power BI are registered trademarks of the Microsoft group of companies.

Manufacturing audit experience makes all the difference

The Crowe audit team does not require extensive orienting to a manufacturing business, thanks to our decades of experience. Crowe specialists respond quickly to manufacturing client needs and make senior team members available to address audit challenges.

Talk to a manufacturing external audit specialist

Get in touch with a Crowe audit team member to share your manufacturing external audit needs, challenges, and questions. We’re ready to help.
Andrea M. Meinardi
Managing Partner, Manufacturing, Office Managing Partner, Nashville
Beau Schwegman
Beau Schwegman
Partner, Audit & Assurance