June 20

Discrete vs. Process Manufacturing – What’s the difference?


Discrete vs. process manufacturing –What’s the difference?

By Brad Tornberg, E3 Consulting Partners, LLC.

Many times when I visit a new Manufacturing Software prospect I see the “square peg in the round hole” syndrome at its finest. Typically if they are a process manufacturing company many times they will be using a discrete software solution for their inventory, production and accounting that just doesn’t fit a process manufacturing company. When we start to discuss some of the differences it quickly becomes apparent that many do not understand that many exist. Process manufacturing is the branch of manufacturing that is associated with formulas and manufacturing recipes, and can be contrasted with discrete manufacturing, which is concerned with bills of material and routing

For example – A process manufacturer typically has a formula that produces a product which can then be added into various packaging sizes and may even be used in other formulations (intermediates). The product itself can be produced and sized depending on the available production capacity of the work center and the number and size of the machines and labor being utilized. It can have variances in yield and loss issues due to how the product is produced (its recipe).

Process manufacturing usually has issues not typically seen with Discrete. Lab Analysis and Physical Characteristics are recorded (Lab Book) , Quality Control and monitoring is performed at many levels, Lot control, recall and traceability, formulation management, approval and historical comparison, by products, co products and compliance reporting issues (MSDS, FDA, USDA, etc.)

“In discrete manufacturing it varies from Process Manufacturing. In discrete manufacturing, the manufacturing floor works off orders to build something. Examples include toys, medical equipment, computers and cars. The resulting products are easily identifiable. In process manufacturing, the products are undifferentiated, for example oil, natural gas and salt.”

“Discrete manufacturing is often characterized by individual or separate unit production. Units can be produced in low volume with very high complexity or high volumes of low complexity. Low volume/high complexity production results in the need for an extremely flexible manufacturing system that can improve quality and time-to-market speed while cutting costs. High volume/low complexity production puts high premiums on inventory controls, lead times and reducing or limiting materials costs and waste.”

“The simplest and easiest way to grasp the definition of process manufacturing is to recognize that, once an output is produced by this process, it cannot be distilled back to its basic components. In other words, “once you put it together, you cannot take it apart”. A can of soda cannot be returned to its basic components such as carbonated water, citric acid, potassium benzoate, aspartame, and other ingredients. Juice cannot be put back into an orange. A plastic card manufactured cannot be returned to its basic components like PVR sheets, transparent sheets. A car or computer, on the other hand, can be disassembled and its components, to a large extent, returned to stock. Process manufacturing is common in the food, beverage, chemical, pharmaceutical, consumer packaged goods, and biotechnology industries. In process manufacturing, the relevant factors are ingredients, not parts; formulas, not bill of materials; and bulk, not individual units”

The bottom line here is that there clearly are differences in types of manufacturing and understanding your particular requirements and needs to run your manufacturing business is the most critical thing you can understand prior to selecting a  new software solution for your process manufacturing business.


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