R&D Tax Credits for Manufacturing Companies: Everything You Need to Know

R&D Tax Credits for Manufacturing Companies: Everything You Need to Know

This blog offers manufacturing leaders practical guidance on utilizing the R&D tax credit to drive innovation, cut expenses, and gain a competitive edge.

By Matthew Bechtold ・ 10 min read

If you’re in the manufacturing world, you know that Innovation is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge. One powerful yet often overlooked tool for fostering innovation is the R&D tax credit. 

This federal incentive is designed to reward companies for their research and development efforts, reducing their tax liabilities and freeing up resources for further innovation. For COOs, CFOs, and CEOs of manufacturing companies, understanding and leveraging the R&D tax credit can significantly help your bottom line. 

This guide aims to demystify the R&D tax credit, explain its relevance to the manufacturing industry, and provide practical insights on how to take full advantage of this valuable incentive.

The R&D Tax Credit: What is it?

The R&D tax credit is a federal incentive used to encourage businesses to invest in research and development activities. Established as part of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 and made permanent in 2015, this credit aims to stimulate innovation across various industries, including manufacturing. The credit allows businesses to reduce their federal tax liabilities by offsetting the costs associated with qualifying R&D activities.

For manufacturing companies, the R&D tax credit is particularly relevant because it supports the development and improvement of products and processes. This includes activities like designing new manufacturing processes, testing prototypes, developing software enhancements, and experimenting with new materials.

The R&D tax credit is also not limited to high-tech industries or companies with formal research departments. By understanding the scope and potential of the R&D tax credit, manufacturing leaders can better leverage it to fund ongoing innovation, reduce costs, and drive growth within their organizations.

Qualifying R&D Activities in Manufacturing

Many activities that manufacturing companies regularly perform can qualify for the R&D tax credit. These activities are usually part of daily operations and involve improving products, processes, or technologies. 

Here are some key examples of qualifying activities:

  • Designing Manufacturing Process Improvements: Efforts to make manufacturing processes more efficient, reduce waste, or increase production yield.
  • Performing Test Manufacturing Runs: Running test batches to evaluate new processes or products before full-scale production.
  • Developing and Testing Prototypes: Creating and testing new product designs to ensure they meet desired specifications and performance standards.
  • Developing Software Enhancements: Improving software used in manufacturing processes or embedded in products.
  • Evaluating and Experimenting with New Materials: Testing new materials to see if they can improve product quality or reduce costs.
  • Designing Customized Packaging: Developing packaging solutions tailored to specific products or clients.

Many manufacturing companies already perform these tasks as part of their normal workflow. Engineers, technicians, machinists, and other staff involved in these activities can all contribute to qualifying R&D efforts.

The R&D tax credit is designed to support a wide range of activities aimed at improving efficiency, reducing costs, and driving innovation. By recognizing these qualifying activities within your company, you can take full advantage of the R&D tax credit to support and expand your innovation efforts. This can lead to significant tax savings, allowing your business to reinvest in further improvements and growth.

Quick Example

Let's take a look at a fictional example to illustrate how a manufacturing company can successfully claim the R&D tax credit.

Company Background

ABC Manufacturing is a mid-sized company that specializes in producing high-quality, custom automotive parts. The company is always looking for ways to improve its manufacturing processes and develop new products to stay ahead of the competition. In the past year, ABC Manufacturing undertook several projects that involved significant research and development efforts.

Identifying Qualifying Activities

ABC Manufacturing identified the following activities as qualifying for the R&D tax credit:

  • Designing Manufacturing Process Improvements: The engineering team worked on improving the efficiency of the assembly line to reduce production time and minimize waste.
  • Performing Test Manufacturing Runs: The company conducted several test runs to refine a new process for producing lightweight, durable car parts.
  • Developing and Testing Prototypes: ABC Manufacturing developed and tested prototypes for a new type of brake pad that offers better performance and durability.
  • Evaluating and Experimenting with New Materials: The R&D team experimented with new composite materials to enhance the strength and reduce the weight of the automotive parts.

Categorizing Eligible Expenses

Next, ABC Manufacturing categorized the expenses associated with these activities into three main categories:

  1. Wages: The salaries of engineers, technicians, and supervisors directly involved in the R&D activities were included. For example, the lead engineer, who spent 85% of their time on these projects, had 100% of their wages counted towards the R&D credit.
  2. Supplies: This included materials used to create and test prototypes, as well as supplies for test runs. Items like composite materials for new brake pads and custom molds for prototype development were part of this category.
  3. Contractor Expenses: ABC Manufacturing also worked with external consultants to develop a specialized tool needed for the new assembly process. The cost of these third-party services was included in the claim.

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Conducting the R&D Tax Credit Study

To ensure they captured all eligible expenses and met the documentation requirements, ABC Manufacturing engaged a specialty tax consultant specializing in R&D tax credits. The consultant performed a thorough R&D tax credit study, which involved:

  • Reviewing Projects: The consultant reviewed all projects undertaken during the year to identify those that qualified for the R&D tax credit.
  • Gathering Documentation: Detailed records of employee time, project descriptions, and expense receipts were collected to support the claim.
  • Calculating the Credit: The consultant calculated the total eligible expenses and determined the amount of the R&D tax credit ABC Manufacturing could claim.

Filing the Claim

With the R&D tax credit study completed and all necessary documentation in hand, ABC Manufacturing’s tax advisor prepared the required forms to file with their federal tax return. The forms included:

  • Form 6765: This form is used to calculate the amount of the R&D tax credit.
  • Supporting Documentation: Detailed records and summaries of the qualifying activities and expenses were included to substantiate the claim.

Common Misconceptions with the R&D Credit and Manufacturing

Many manufacturing companies overlook the R&D tax credit due to common misconceptions. Let's clear up these myths and help you understand why your business might qualify.

Myth 1: You Need a Dedicated Research Department

You don't need a formal research department or a high-tech lab to qualify for the R&D tax credit. In manufacturing, many qualifying activities are part of everyday operations. For instance, designing new production processes, testing prototypes, and developing specialized tools are all activities that can qualify. Even routine improvements to existing processes can be eligible, meaning that innovation happening on your shop floor every day might already qualify.

Myth 2: Only Scientists and Engineers Qualify

While having scientists and engineers on staff can make R&D easier, they are not required to qualify for the tax credit. In the manufacturing industry, employees with practical experience and technical skills often carry out R&D activities. This includes machinists developing new tooling, production supervisors overseeing test runs, and quality control staff testing new products. Even third-party contractors who help design or test new systems can contribute to qualifying R&D activities. It's the nature of the work that matters, not the job titles or degrees.

Myth 3: Start-ups Don’t Qualify

Even start-ups and emerging manufacturing companies can benefit from the R&D tax credit. Recent legislation allows new businesses to apply up to $1.25 million of the R&D credit against payroll taxes over five years (up to $500,000 a year). To be eligible, your company must have less than $5 million in gross receipts for the year the credit is claimed and no gross receipts or interest income for any of the previous five years. This provision helps new manufacturing firms invest in innovation right from the start.

Myth 4: Research Must Be “New” to the Industry

The research doesn't have to be groundbreaking or unique to the industry. It simply needs to be new to your company. In manufacturing, this might mean developing a new product, improving an existing process, or experimenting with new materials. If you're making changes to how you manufacture goods, there's a good chance those activities could qualify for the R&D tax credit.

By understanding these misconceptions, manufacturing leaders can better recognize the 

potential benefits of the R&D tax credit. Whether you're improving production lines, developing new tools, or experimenting with materials, the R&D tax credit can provide significant financial benefits to support your ongoing innovation efforts.

Financial Benefits of the R&D Tax Credit for Manufacturing Companies

The most direct benefit of the R&D tax credit is a reduction in tax liability. This credit allows companies to offset costs associated with research and development on a, freeing up capital for other critical business needs. Here are some key financial benefits:

  • Tax Savings: Substantial reductions in federal and, in some cases, state taxes.
  • Increased Cash Flow: Immediate savings that can be reinvested into the business.
  • Support for High-Cost Projects: Helps finance expensive R&D initiatives without additional financial strain.

Strategic Benefits

The strategic advantages of the R&D tax credit extend beyond immediate financial and operational gains. These benefits can significantly impact the long-term success of a company:

  • Competitive Advantage: Innovation can set your company apart from competitors, making your products and services more attractive to customers.
  • Sustainable Growth: Continuous improvement and innovation contribute to long-term growth and sustainability.
  • Enhanced Reputation: Demonstrating a commitment to innovation and quality can enhance your company's reputation among customers, partners, and investors.

By understanding and leveraging the R&D tax credit, manufacturing companies can unlock a host of benefits that support their financial health, operational efficiency, and strategic positioning. This powerful incentive not only aids in immediate cost savings but also drives long-term success by fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

The R&D tax credit is a powerful tool that manufacturing companies can use to foster innovation, improve efficiency, and reduce costs. By understanding the qualifying activities and eligible expenses, debunking common misconceptions, and recognizing the significant benefits, you can leverage this tax incentive to its fullest potential. 

At TaxTaker, we specialize in helping businesses like yours navigate the complexities of tax incentives. Our team of experts will guide you through the process, ensuring you maximize your savings and reinvest in your company's future. Don't leave money on the table – contact TaxTaker today to learn how we can help you take advantage of the R&D tax credit and drive your business forward.

Essential Documents for R&D Tax Credit Claims: A Comprehensive Checklist

Download Now
Streamline R&D tax credit claims for your clients with our essential, CPA-approved checklist!

About the author

Matthew Bechtold
Head of Accounting

Matt Bechtold heads up TaxTaker's R&D credit practice. He has helped companies claim valuable Federal & State R&D credits for more than 10 years for a wide range of clients and industries, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups and medium-sized businesses.

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