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Discrete vs Process Manufacturing: Differences, Examples, Management

If you’re new to manufacturing, you might be surprised to learn just how complex a field it is. Different manufacturing processes apply to corresponding types of manufacturing. Two fundamental manufacturing methods are discrete manufacturing vs process manufacturing. Understanding the differences between these approaches is essential for businesses to optimize their production processes.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between discrete vs process manufacturing, offer examples of each, and explore how tools like enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can help manage both.

What Is Discrete Manufacturing?

Discrete manufacturing is the production of physical products and components that can be quantified. When you imagine a traditional assembly line of parts being put together, you are thinking of the discrete manufacturing process. This can include cars, computers, and furniture.

These products are assembled using a bill of materials (BOM) and are assembled in a predictable sequence of steps. Each finished product is easily identifiable.

With discrete manufacturing, production involves assembling various components which can be disassembled and reassembled. Other characteristics of discrete manufacturing are products that can be customized to meet client specifications and produced in batches for flexible customization.

What Is Process Manufacturing?

Process manufacturing is the production of goods by combining supplies, ingredients, and raw materials using a formula or recipe. Think of process manufacturing like baking; after a product is created in process manufacturing, you can no longer revert it to its original parts, in the same way you can’t get an egg back from a cake.

Examples of process manufacturing include food and beverages, medicine, chemicals, and refined oil.

With process manufacturing, you can still produce in batches. However, production is usually continuous, running all day and night. Your production team relies on clear formulae and recipes to ensure consistent quality.

Discrete vs Process Manufacturing: Key Differences

Discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing share general manufacturing principles, like ensuring product quality, being produced in batches, using and requiring stringent inventory management practices to ensure timely delivery.

However, they differ significantly in the following ways.

Production Process

With discrete manufacturing, production methods include assembly lines and dedicated workstations for employees. Each employee is responsible for putting together components in specific way. Some processes may be automated using IoT devices and robotics.

Process manufacturing, on the other hand, relies on continuous processing. Raw materials undergo chemical and physical changes, making it crucial recipes are followed exactly. As a result, process manufacturers often need special equipment and facilities.

Production Scheduling

While both discrete manufacturing and production manufacturing benefits from Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) software, they may schedule production differently.

Discrete manufacturers may be more willing to use JIT manufacturing or lean manufacturing principles because they use production orders and work orders to schedule and track production. They’re also more likely to use job shops and implement made-to-order (MTO) and engineered-to-order (ETO) strategies. Discrete manufacturers are able to be more flexible and move with the tides of market demand.

Process manufacturers have much more tightly controlled production schedules to maintain continuous flow. They may produce a fixed quantity of a product at a time. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, medicines are creating in batches and their bottles are stamped with lot numbers. Because of strict regulations, especially on controlled substances, only so much of a medicine can be produced at one time. It also makes it easy for pharmacies to ensure product is still in date and not expired.

Inventory Management Strategies

Discrete and process manufacturers manage inventory differently. For discrete manufacturers, inventory management includes a wide range of raw materials, components, work-in-progress (WIP) products, and finished goods. They use barcodes and other IoT devices to track each part and product throughout assembly and distribution.

Process manufacturers work primarily with raw materials and in-process goods. They may be less flexible when it comes to using inventory reduction strategies as it’s imperative they have all the raw material necessary to mix their ingredients. It’s important that they can support a continuous flow of production and avoid shortages.

Customizing Products

Discrete manufacturers often focus on their ability to create custom products or customized versions of products for their clients. They can even make changes during the production process if a customer changes their mind.

Process manufacturers follow strict formulae making customizations nearly impossible. When changes do happen, they are costly because the continuous workflow has to be interrupted, cleaned, and restarted.


Discrete manufacturers have the freedom to customize products and reconfigure pricing structures. This can be done mid-production if necessary. Cost structures are predictable based on the prices of raw materials and components.

For process manufacturers, cost structures are as rigid as production schedules. Due to the continuous nature of production and the requirement of specialized equipment and staff, the only variable costs are the price of raw materials and utilities.

Examples of Discrete Manufacturing vs Process Manufacturing

The following industries can be labeled “discrete” or “process” manufacturing industries.

Discrete Manufacturing Industries

Process Manufacturing Industries

How to Manage Discrete Manufacturing and Process Manufacturing Using ERP Software

There are a wealth of ERP modules that can help your team better manage all parts of your business, whether you’re a discrete or process manufacturer. Here are just a few included with many ERP systems.

Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS)

APS modules assist with MES and production planning to help manufacturers reduce inventory and manufacturing costs without risking customer service. APS software helps you synchronize the flow of material and capacity with customer demand with ease.

Production Control

Production control modules helps your quality assurance team inspect and test products throughout the production process. This ensures you comply with regulations and adhere to quality standards.

CAD Integration and Synchronication

CAD integration reduces rework, minimizes scrap, and helps your engineering team work more efficiently. By connecting your CAD system with your ERP system, you can streamline collaboration and get the production process moving more quickly.

Materials & Inventory Management

Materials and inventory management modules help manufacturers track inventory and materials across multiple locations. It also helps you find the best prices for raw materials, lowering the cost to your customers.

Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ)

CPQ software makes managing even the most complex, multi-site, global companies a breeze. It removes any question or confusion about what a highly customized product will cost a customer, eliminating surprised and improve the customer experience. Learn more about CPQ.

Not Sure What Manufacturing Software to Use? Let’s Talk

At Godlan, we have over 35 years of experience helping manufacturers of all kinds streamline their production workflows and increase their bottom line through ERP implementation. If you’re not sure where to start, contact our experts today.

Discover what is possible for your enterprise.

Reach out to our team today to begin a conversation to discuss your specific needs, infrastructure, and growth opportunities.

Godlan is a name you can trust.

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