Discrete manufacturing implies producing distinct items that require assembly along a production line, whereas process manufacturing produces goods in bulk, with the raw materials being mixed together in the manufacturing process. In this article, we will explore key differences between the two and look at examples of each. 


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What is Discrete Manufacturing?

Discrete manufacturing is characterized by producing goods that are made up of many individual parts, the total number of which may often reach into the tens of thousands (cars, agricultural or military equipment, servers, etc.). This means that the process always involves assembly which is usually completed in many phases and often in different workstations. A smartphone, for example, is made up of a variety of individual components – the LCD screen, the motherboard, the camera, etc. – that are each put together separately to be eventually compiled into a single product in the final assembly phase.

To keep the often highly complex manufacturing process in check, discrete manufacturing relies on using Bills of Materials, or BOMs, which designate all the individual parts that the product consists of, sometimes including even the fixing attributes like nuts and bolts. Furthermore, the components and sub-assemblies that the end-products are made of often require prior assembly themselves. In these cases, multi-level BOMs (and if the product is configurable – Matrix BOMs) are used to keep track of the complexity, making powerful MRP/ERP software a must for these types of manufacturing processes.

Production of units in discrete manufacturing usually happens in many different workstations that can either work independently of one another or sequentially. This makes keeping track of the routing of manufacturing operations another crucial attribute of the discrete manufacturing process. Using the smartphone example again, while it is possible to assemble the LCD screen and the power supply system separately, installing them on the motherboard requires sequential routing. Here again, a capable MRP system is required to ensure that the creation and assembly of the product is completed in the correct order and that all of the parts are made to close tolerances so they fit together perfectly.

What is Process Manufacturing?

Process manufacturing involves mixing, boiling, blending, or otherwise joining the ingredients together in a “process” that outputs a certain volume of produce, instead of individual units. For the most part, therefore, process manufacturing occurs in bulk quantities. Whereas discrete manufacturing relies on BOMs, process manufacturing uses recipes or formulas to determine the constituents of the product. Here too it is crucial that the production planning system a company employs has the technical capacity to accommodate scalability, process inspections, process approach, etc. If the formula or a recipe of a product is scalable, which is mostly the case in process manufacturing, different size batches of a product can usually be created using the same formula. 

For example, if a factory produces cupcakes, it makes s