Compare Discrete Manufacturing versus Process and Batch Manufacturing – Key Differences



Compare Discrete Manufacturing versus Process and Batch Manufacturing – Key Differences


People think that “manufacturing is manufacturing” and it is not.


Discrete manufacturing makes up the largest segment of the industry. Yet, I read a study that said 30% of the industry is process or batch manufacturers. That is a number large enough that it should not be ignored.


Most software systems are built to fit the discrete manufacturing model; that segment gets the most attention. But once you really understand the different types of manufacturing, you will quickly realize that they are not all the same, and they should not all use the same manufacturing software.


  •  Discrete manufacturing is assembly. Think about putting together a circuit board or a computer. You do it the same way every time in a repetitive way. Within discrete manufacturing, there is “engineer to order” and other subsets, but primarily it is assembly based on a fixed bill of materials.


  • Process manufacturing creates goods by combining supplies, ingredients, or raw materials using a formula or recipe. You try to do it the same way every time, but it doesn’t always work out that way because there are so many variables. Within process manufacturing is specialized Batch manufacturing.


First, let’s look at the key characteristics of discrete versus process, specifically batch, manufacturers.


Bill of Materials versus Formula

  • In discrete manufacturing, you want to have a fixed bill of materials associated with each SKUs or saleable product.


  • In batch manufacturing, you use a formula. You can make multiple products from that formula, and you can make the same product multiple ways. For example, manufacturers in the brewing industry can have the exact same beer in a keg, a can, or a bottle. If Sierra Nevada makes their beer in Mills River, NC, they use one formula. If they make it in Chico, CA, they use a different formula because the water chemistry is different, yet they still want their Pale Ale to taste exactly the same. That is a good example of how you can make the same SKU in two different locations, but you can also make multiple SKUs from the same formula in different packaging.


Parts versus Ingredients

  • Discrete manufacturing generally uses standard parts during their assembly. A resistor for a circuit board must be exactly the same each time, or it is simply not used.


  • On the other hand, the ingredients used in batch manufacturing, such as for chemical manufacturers or food manufacturers, are typically more natural in nature. This means they vary by lot. Each lot will be slightly different, so you have to be able to change that batch or formula to accommodate the change in the lot.


Quality Control Accept/Reject versus Change/Adapt


There is no question that quality control is important for all manufacturers. Yet there are still some differences.


  • It is not common for discrete manufacturers to try to adapt a part in the assembly line because of a quality issue. It is basically a reject or accept scenario.


  • However, quality control in batch manufacturing is more specific because there can be multiple levels of quality based on the inbound raw materials, and each process might have quality control. Instead of just accepting or rejecting, you can change or adapt. For example, you can add another ingredient to bring it into spec and change the batch. Quality connection to production is much tighter and there is kind of a bidirectional communication happening.


Predictable Yield versus Variable Yield


  • Discrete manufacturers can precisely predict the number of end products.


  • For many batch manufacturers, every batch can have a different yield. One day you put in 100 pounds of raw materials and get 90 pounds out. The next day, you might get 85 pounds out. It is simply not as predictable in nature.


Single Runs versus Multiple Runs


  • It is not common for discrete manufacturers to have multiple runs within one process.


  • Batch manufacturers can have long runs of products that have sub-batches in them. For example, a large bakery might do one run all day and do multiple batches of dough in the course of that run. There is someone at the front of the line mixing the flour, water, eggs, and flavor and putting it into the process. Then he starts on the next batch. Meanwhile, the proofer is taking over, then the oven, then the divider, then the packaging, and all the steps down the line. The process is continually moving. For lot traceability, you need to look at it as one big batch but you have multiple individual runs throughout that process.


These comparisons just start to scratch the surface when we compare discrete manufacturing versus batch manufacturing.


The key point to remember is that discrete manufacturing does it the same way every time, and you need your software to make sure that happens. Process and batch manufacturing have so many variables that the software you use needs to be extremely flexible. It is certainly not “one size manufacturing software fits all.”


In my next post, I will discuss some specific key features that batch manufacturers must have in their software systems. Read more here.


If you use a formula or batch in your manufacturing process, we know that you are unique. Let’s start the conversation. Contact us online or call 770.421.2467.

By Randy Smith, CEO and Co-Founder, Vicinity Software,



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