5 Common Manufacturing Systems

Today’s common goods and unique parts are made in several different ways. Products of all types and sizes undergo a process that takes them from the drawing board to the customer’s hands. This process is part of a manufacturing system, which is any combination of actions and processes that go into producing consumables.

Manufacturers transmit instructions to production machines and distribute orders to plant personnel in different ways depending on the manufacturing system they use. Industries have developed various manufacturing systems over the years, inspired by product design, technology and economics, to accommodate an ever-growing range of products. With the right system in place, manufacturers can produce goods at a high rate while maintaining high quality and enjoying cost savings and efficiency.

Here we explore five of today’s most common manufacturing systems: discrete, repetitive, batch, continuous and additive.

1. Discrete Manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing is an industrial production system that creates individual end products. The process involves sending parts through the following production stages:

  • Machining
  • Assembly
  • Etching
  • Fastening
  • Polishing
  • Stitching
  • Packaging

The final products are distinct, countable and can often be separated into individual parts.

A wide array of industries use discrete manufacturing to produce their goods, including the following:

  • Marine
  • Textiles
  • Defense
  • Aerospace
  • Nanotechnologies
  • Heavy machinery
  • Medical equipment
  • Industrial equipment
  • Automotive and transportation
  • Electronics and semiconductors

Discrete manufacturing offers the following benefits:

  • Higher raw material and product quality
  • Less machinery downtime
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Strengthened supplier relationships

2. Repetitive Manufacturing

Repetitive manufacturing is an industrial production system that mass-produces goods similar in function and layout. Any differences in product design are minimal and don’t require major changes in the manufacturing process.

One distinguishing feature of repetitive manufacturing is its use of assembly and production lines to create identical or very similar products. This feature makes repetitive manufacturing ideal for producers committed to a set production rate.

Repetitive manufacturing adheres to a strict master production schedule to operate efficiently and meet a specific production rate while maintaining quality. Following a master schedule allows repetitive manufacturers to stay ahead of product demand, as production occurs before customers submit orders.

Electronics, automobiles and durable goods like large household appliances are three common types of products created via repetitive manufacturing.

Repetitive manufacturing offers the following benefits:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Definable production speeds
  • Easy scheduling
  • Performance visibility

3. Batch Manufacturing

Batch manufacturing is an industrial production system in which mass-produced items are built in batches, with fixed changes to each batch. Each product group undergoes a series of steps to result in the end product. Batch manufacturing occurs within a certain time frame and guarantees specific quality changes.

Batch manufacturing allows for various product changes, such as style, color or size and ensures that each batch is identical in quality.

Products often manufactured with a batch production system include the following:

  • Molds
  • Material coating
  • Computer software
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Machines, tools and equipment

The advantages of batch manufacturing include the following:

  • Allows for greater quality control
  • Increases equipment and machine efficiency
  • Reduces waste by producing the precise number of goods ordered
  • Helps lower cost by running machines only when needed, rather than continuously

4. Continuous Manufacturing

Continuous manufacturing is the opposite of batch manufacturing. Instead of grouping goods into batches, continuous production entails a constant flow that processes materials around the clock, uninterrupted. Items produced with continuous manufacturing, such as canned goods and household appliances, require no alteration, allowing manufacturers to mass-produce at a greater scale.

Industries such as electricity production and water treatment use continuous manufacturing to ensure adequate amounts of product and efficiently use machinery. Others, like pharmaceuticals and food and beverage, use continuous manufacturing to bolster production rates, enhance quality and reduce the potential for human error.

The advantages of continuous manufacturing include the following:

  • Lower manufacturing costs
  • Faster production
  • Improved ability to scale up
  • Greater use of automated production and predictive maintenance

While continuous manufacturing requires a larger initial investment than batch manufacturing, ongoing production efficiencies offset the cost and make continuous manufacturing more profitable long-term.

Continuous manufacturing relies less on employees for process supervision and quality assurance. While continuous manufacturing was previously unsuitable for goods that needed frequent customization, modern tools like predictive analytics, predictive maintenance and robotic process automation now enable plants to use continuous production with product customization.

5. Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, produces an item by building it one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing employs various materials to create products, including the following:

  • Polymers
  • Metals
  • Ceramics
  • Foams
  • Gels
  • Biomaterials

Production companies first used additive manufacturing for rapid prototyping to develop nonfunctional prototypes. This process allowed companies to quickly produce a model of the end product, free of the usual process and investment associated with building a prototype.

As additive manufacturing progressed, companies used it to produce molds for end products and, eventually, functional products.

Industries that use additive manufacturing include the following:

  • Aerospace
  • Medical devices
  • Dentistry
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Automotive
  • Tool-making

The additive manufacturing process occurs in three general steps:

  1. Someone creates a design using computer-aided design(CAD) software or by scanning the object to be printed.
  2. The software transforms the design into a framework for the 3D printing machine to follow.
  3. The framework is sent to the additive manufacturing machine for immediate production.

Manufacturers can complete the additive manufacturing process in a few hours to a few days, based on the product’s size. One additive manufacturing method uses a nozzle to stack material layers until the desired result is complete.

Another method involves pouring powdered metal or plastic into a bed and melting some to form a solid part. The loose powder falls away, revealing the desired end product. 3D printers often use electron beams or lasers in this method. An additional technique uses a polymer to bind the powder layer before placing the component in a furnace to melt the plastic away and solidify the powders into the final product.

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