Discrete Manufacturing vs. Process Manufacturing

If you have been around the manufacturing industry for any amount of time, you have likely heard someone talk about discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing.

Discrete-Manufacturing-vs.-Process Manufacturing-mrpeasy

You may have even wondered if they are different ways of describing the same thing. Rest assured that they are not.

Discrete manufacturing is different than and distinguishable from process manufacturing. The two types are about as different from one another as an automobile is from a can of paint or a bicycle from a cupcake.

As you have probably guessed by now, the most obvious difference between discrete and process manufacturing is the way the product is made. Discrete manufacturers create finished goods – automobiles and bicycles, for example – that could be made up of parts assembled using screws and nuts and can be taken apart and used on something else. Process manufacturers, on the other hand, make something that can’t be broken down into individual parts – paint and cupcakes – because the separate ingredients are mixed together in a “process” that cannot be reversed.

Here are the particulars:

Identify discrete manufacturing with the assembly line (and the junkyard!)

If you want to get a clear picture of discrete manufacturing, think about a vehicle assembly line. As the car or truck moves down the line, workers (maybe even robots) keep adding parts and components to it. Some of the components were manufactured and assembled elsewhere and brought in for final assembly. But no matter how many parts are made and assembled—and there are 30,000 parts in the typical car—they are distinct from one another.

Now, look into the future. The worn out, fully depreciated automobile ends up in a junkyard. People needing replacement parts for their current vehicles go to the junkyard to find them. The guy who owns or manages the business removes the part from one of the old cars and sells it as a replacement part. In theory, he could remove practically any usable part and sell it so that someone else can re-use it.

Of course, there are many other examples of discrete manufacturing, but the assembly line and scrap yard show it at its basic level. Its most salient feature is that the final product—whether it’s the automobile or its sub-assemblies—is manufactured sequentially and requires sophisticated planning to ensure that the creation and assembly of the product are completed in the correct order and that all of the parts are made to close tolerances, so they fit together perfectly.

Process manufacturing is associated with industries that make products in bulk

For the most part, process manufacturing occurs in bulk quantities. Pharmaceuticals, paints, foods, and beverages are prime examples of products that go through a chemical conversion based on a formula or process. Unlike discrete manufacturing, the individual parts that make up the final product are not easily identified after they have been processed. And the materials that make up the product cannot be disassembled and re-used in another manner.

Bakeri-Process manufacturing-mrpeasy

Process manufacturing comes from recipes or formulas. If the final product – a chocolate cupcake, for instance – is not sweet enough, the baker will add more sugar or chocolate to the next batch. Process manufacturing can be viewed as being more complex since it is based on transforming individual ingredients into a final product. But it is also characterized as being less defect-oriented than discrete manufacturing, so there are fewer interruptions in the production runs.

You may also like 10 Best Practices for Improving Your Manufacturing Processes.

Route Step Processing vs. Batch Processing

Discrete manufacturers assemble materials at each work center individually. They follow a prescribed route that details each step, or operation, in the production process and the order in which these steps must be performed.

For example, a discrete manufacturer might make the frame of a bicycle at Work Station #1, add the pedals at #2, the handlebars at #3, and so on. A bill of materials is created that links each component to a specific work station. After the materials are used, a worker will check them off.

Process manufacturers typically add most or all of their raw materials at one time to create a batch. They have very little use for a bill of materials or routing sheets.

Discrete manufacturing often requires more customer participation

Customers often participate in the design and manufacturing of discrete engineered-to-order products. Complex products often require a high level of collaboration between manufacturers and their customers, especially in the design phase of the process. The finished product can seem like a moving target as difficulties are encountered, and changes are made on the fly during manufacturing.

To prevent constant confusion and damaging setbacks, product information, design specifications, and engineering changes must flow freely and swiftly between the company and the customer.

Markets associated with discrete manufacturing

  • Machinery that includes appliances, machine tools, farm equipment, and watches
  • Electronics such as computers, televisions, DVD players, smartphones, and iPads
  • Defense and aerospace examples are fighter jets, tanks, nuclear submarines, and battleships
  • High tech is made up of things like industrial robots
  • Automotive includes cars, trucks, and their myriad of components

Goods made through process manufacturing are usually measured by weight or volume

They would include:

  • Foods
  • Beverages
  • Gasoline
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Plastics
  • Chemicals
  • Paints

To sum things up

Discrete manufactured items are notable for the following:
Standard parts and components
Part numbers
Unit of measures: each and piece
Bill of materials
Assemblies and fabrications
Process manufactured items have different traits
Variable ingredients
Identified by attributes
Unit of measure: weight of volume
Recipes and formulas
Mixes and blends