Those involved in the manufacturing industry know that one manufacturing process is not necessarily like another — and in this high-tech business world, manufacturing operations can vary a great deal. So do the systems that support them. The software architectures that manufacturing companies use to produce products and materials should be designed to support their specific operations.
There are two very different kinds of manufacturing: process manufacturing and discrete manufacturing. These two types of manufacturing have very different structures and very different needs.
What is Process Manufacturing?
In the world of process manufacturing, volumes of raw materials are refined and processed for sale. The manufacturing process does not produce discrete units of production. Instead, a product is produced in bulk and packaged for shipment.
What is Discrete Manufacturing?
In discrete manufacturing, manufacturers build individual units for shipment. Discrete manufacturers turn out individual items that represent the country’s product line.
The Difference Between Process Manufacturing and Discrete Manufacturing
One way to think about these two types of manufacturing is to consider the production of commodities vs assets. We tend to think of commodities as bulk materials — for example, wheat, corn or coffee.
On the other hand, experts often refer to the world of electronics manufacturing or the production of appliances as good examples of discrete manufacturing. In this process, each individual unit is put together in a specific way.
Another difference lies in the products themselves. While process manufacturers simply produces refined material, discrete manufacturing is often used to build big-ticket items. Companies rely on adequate discrete manufacturing processes to produce complex products, such as a car or a computer.
Manufacturing ERP: Fitting the Platform to the Job
Manufacturing companies use enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to manage their manufacturing processes. Specific manufacturing ERP software solutions are needed to support either process manufacturing or discrete manufacturing operations. Companies will be looking for feature sets that fit their needs as they pursue one or the other of these types of business processes.
For example, a manufacturing ERP system that offers robust parts tracking and assembly monitoring will generally only be useful in a discrete manufacturing context. Features like barcode scanning and RFID tracking may be helpful for both kinds of manufacturing, but are often more helpful in the discrete manufacturing process, where they can track individual parts used in assembly.
Features like product lifecycle management (PLCM) are generally only applied to discrete manufacturing, because the bulk goods produced in process manufacturing don’t really have a defined life cycle — they are simply parceled out in wholesale or retail sales. Process mapping is another type of manufacturing ERP feature that may not be helpful for process manufacturing use.
Some of the most helpful features for process manufacturing ERP include those that can weigh volumes of product, or features that govern the containerization of bulk goods.
For example, a specific manufacturing ERP system may weigh and assess closed bags or boxes containing a finite amount of material. These types of ERP systems can also help with the refinement of the material, and the quality.
Some of these features may be called assistive intelligence features. For example, a human inspector can run spot checks on a product line, and input the results into the ERP solution. That provides business leaders with an ongoing look at the quality of products.
Other types of manufacturing ERP features are also helpful for both process and discrete manufacturing. Financial features and cloud-delivered service models, along with warehousing and logistics tools, can support both kinds of manufacturing operations.
In general, many competitive manufacturing ERP programs advertise themselves as comprehensive helpers that assist business managers in planning every step of a production process. ERP can help with tracking supply chains, the assembly of products on lines, the storage of inventory and much more.
The bottom line is that those who are looking for ERP tools should do the required research to figure out what specific ERP vendor offerings are going to be best for their companies. Every company should consider the volume of production and the footprint of the business. In addition, they should think about their primary industry, whether it’s automotive, food and beverage, or some other type of production. Think about who the key players are in a process and what tools they need to do their jobs well. Use comparison engines to get a true picture of what all of the available ERP vendors offer, and you’ll be on better footing for choosing the best manufacturing ERP possible.