The 6 Types of Manufacturing Processes

Last Updated: May 24th, 2022
Researched and Written by: Russ Davidson

All consumer goods and commodity products are created with a manufacturing process. Whether a large production plant or a small workshop, or producing a large number of products vs one single item, every manufacturer will rely on a process to keep up with an optimal level of production. From the technological advances in the industrial revolution to the present day, different types of manufacturing processes have been deployed alongside manufacturing software–creating the most diverse industry in the modern world.

Because manufacturing processes can be broken down into a number of different variants, we’ve created a comprehensive guide to the various definitions and will go over how one may work for one business over another.

What is a Manufacturing Process?

A manufacturing process is the collection of workers, machinery, software, and operating method used to transform raw materials into finished goods. This process is how a business builds, creates, or produces goods for its customers. Most manufacturing processes will have established rules and procedures, such as quality standards, tolerances for errors, and performance metrics–helping keep a consistent level of efficiency.

There are advantages and disadvantages to any manufacturing process–the test is to discover which advantages will outweigh the perceived disadvantages when used correctly. This will depend on the:

  • Demand for the products being produced
  • The availability of required inventory
  • The quality of the manufacturing plant

Six Types of Manufacturing Processes

Regardless of the size of the company or the complexity of the product line, there will always be a preferred type of manufacturing process that will be optimal for the type of product being made.

Repetitive Manufacturing

Repetitive manufacturing is the ongoing production of goods in a quick period of time. The goods created through a repetitive manufacturing process usually follow the same series of tasks over and over again by the same employees or machinery.

This manufacturing process can help speed up a production rate when a business has a steady stream of similar orders with little to no variance. This is best used during mass production when products are similar in layout, or when variations in product design are minimal enough that they won’t cause any major changes in the manufacturing process.

Repetitive manufacturing is best used when manufacturers have a specific finish date they are shooting for or a specific production rate they want to hit. Setup is generally minimal and noninvasive to the production line–meaning it’s an extremely cost-efficient method of production that requires low skill levels.

Discrete Manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing is the production of distinct items that are comprised of parts that can be easily touched, counted, and sourced. These parts can be broken down and disposed of or recycled at the end of the product lifecycle. Usually these parts or units are made up of similar parts and components put together or even created by the manufacturer.

Examples of discrete manufacturing include vehicles, cell phones, computers, clothing, and more. It can also include component parts such as nuts and bolts.

Items manufactured via a discrete manufacturing process rely on a bill of materials (BOM) and usually flow through an assembly line or via a linear or routing way. The finished products can be both highly complex with low volume (such as computers) or less complex with high volume (such as nuts and bolts).

Orders in a discrete manufacturing environment are usually based on quantity and production cycles are measured by the number of parts produced per duration of time on a production line. Discrete manufacturing typically contrasts with process manufacturing (see below).

Many discrete manufacturers can use specialized systems such as discrete manufacturing software in order to manage their production and workflow.

Job Shop Manufacturing

Job shop manufacturing involves the creation of custom products or goods built to unique customer specifications on a per-job basis. Job shop manufacturing can also be known as made-to-order manufacturing and is a customer demand-driven manufacturing modality.

Job shop production involves a custom/bespoke and is used to fulfill small to medium-sized orders. Generally, job shops will move on to different jobs once the current job is completed.

Rather than manufacturing on a large scale, job shops in the manufacturing industry will know well in advance what they will be making and how much they will be producing. One key challenge of job shop manufacturing is coordinating inventory levels and purchases to ensure the completion of the job, which puts added pressure on accurate estimates and quotes to determine ROI and labor requirements.

Many job shop manufacturers can use specialized systems such as job shop software in order to manage their production and workflow.

Batch Process Manufacturing

The batch production process groups identical products to be produced simultaneously instead of one at a time. Raw materials move through the production line in batches, meaning a set quantity is typically created per batch with a small break or pause in-between.

As opposed to discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing uses recipes and formulas to create products that can be assigned as individual units. The finished product usually cannot be broken back down to the original ingredients–typically because irreversible chemical reactions occurred during the manufacturing process.

Batch process manufacturing shares similarities with both discrete and job shop manufacturing, in the sense that the raw materials are usually common and not made to a strict standard. It can also be seen as a middle-ground between mass production (products made in large quantities within a continuous flow) and job shop manufacturing (usually made in custom smal series).

This method of manufacturing tends to be flexible, can handle product variants, and calls for greater quality control. However, it does have higher work-in-progress inventory levels and high idle time during downtime due to machine changeovers.

Continuous Process Manufacturing

Continuous process manufacturing is a flow production method used to manufacture a final product without interruption. A continuous process is thought of when you consider the traditional conveyor belt or non-stop assembly lines that never stop moving. Similar to repetitive manufacturing (in the sense that it runs all the time), continuous manufacturing focuses on raw materials traditionally used in process manufacturing–which is the mixture of liquids, powders, or slurry.

The difference from batch process manufacturing is that the entire process goes through one movement in one location. Raw materials that enter at the starting point will leave as a finished product further down the line.

Continuous process manufacturing is seen as a way to beat out the perceived inefficiencies of batch process manufacturing, which can include long hold times, supply chain disruptions, and low utilization of machines (such as waiting for batches/steps to be completed before moving on).

Examples of continuous manufacturing include food, pharmaceuticals, paper, pastes, and even metal smelting.

Many process manufacturers can use specialized systems such as process manufacturing software in order to manage their production and workflow.

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Additive manufacturing constructs three-dimensional (3D) objects using data from computer-aided-design (CAD) software and/or 3D object scanners. By using hardware to deposit material or composites in a layer-by-layer fashion, the manufacturing process constructs goods into precise geometric shapes controlled via a computer-controlled process.

Additive manufacturing software enables successful 3D printing jobs by helping prepare all work, optimizing designs, minimizing design to manufacturing lead times, and reducing the total cost of operations through minimal print time and material consumption. Managing an additive manufacturing process workflow via software can help a business oversee order turnaround time and maximize machine utilization rates.

This manufacturing process first appeared in the 1980s. Quickly becoming a rising star, additive manufacturing can now be considered a true manufacturing process on par with the other types. The level of automation it provides means engineers can ensign products to be made by equipment rather than people. If printers are being operated at full speed, the company only requires additional floor space for the machine vs the labor to create the part.

Examples of products made with additive manufacturing include smaller items such as apparel and jewelry and even larger items such as automobiles and houses.

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