When does batch production work best, and how do you optimise it as a production method? We answer these and more questions – and give you solid examples of industries and companies that use the batch production method.
We also give you practical guidance on what to consider if you’re thinking about using batch production – to help you work out if it’s the right method for your business.
- Learn more: Understanding Manufacturing Productivity
What is batch production?
Before we get into the detail, a quick recap of what batch production is.
Batch production is where a batch or group of a product (or similar products) is put through a series of manufacturing steps or stages together. The whole batch is put through one step of the process, then waits to be put through the next step.
In this way, batch production allows for continuous quality control and assessment of progress throughout production.
It’s a popular method of manufacturing given the ability to tweak the assembly line or switch production to a different type of product easily. This allows for changes to production and delivery in response to improvements that need to be made, changing customer needs, or customer demand.
- Learn more: Batch Production Explained
What industries use the batch production manufacturing method?
Batch production is suited to several industries, including food and beverage, clothing, electronics, furniture, pharmaceuticals and others that benefit from a step-by-step production method.
Batch manufacturing also allows for different variations of similar products to be made on the same machines, creating efficiencies for the manufacturer.
Batch production system examples
So how does batch production work in practice? We give you some examples of different types of batch production system.
Food industry batch production
Batch production is common practice in the food & beverage industry.
At a bakery, for instance, batch production can be used to create different types of breads, such as white or wholemeal. The batch production method allows white bread dough to go through the necessary steps to being baked and readied for customers, before starting again with wholemeal bread dough.
Another example is cookies. A bakery will produce cookies by moving them through steps such as mixing the dough, cutting the shapes, and putting them into the oven as a single batch. This means cookies are completed in bulk, once they’ve gone through the final cooking stage. Once one type of biscuit – like chocolate chip, for example – has landed, another type can start on the production line.
Clothing industry batch production
In the clothing industry, batch production is used to dye fabric, print patterns, then cut and assemble them. As such, the same machines can be used to prepare different types of clothing, with different materials, dyes and cuts. Each different style is produced in a batch and moved along the production process.
Small batch production
Small batch production is defined differently depending on the industry.
In the clothing industry, for example, it may refer to a few hundred items in a batch, while for factories that produce FMCGs it could be a few thousand items.
Small batch production can also refer to a test or prototype product, which is created in a small amount to test viability.
Large batch production
Batch production can also be used in large assembly lines, such as for computer software or hardware production. Batch production is suitable for creating components such as PCB boards in bulk, as it allows computer processors to be laid down on the motherboard of a computer in large numbers.
How do companies use and optimise batch production?
A huge range of companies – big and small – use batch production to achieve their business goals – whether that involves large batch production, or smaller batches of niche or even personalised goods.
Here we give you some solid examples of how companies use batch production, and the benefits of using this system.
- Casio Watches
Casio is a major company that uses batch production. Casio has long utilised this production strategy and recently built a new facility to support the creation of its watches. The facility supports Casio’s aim to combine digital engineering with the high-end design, manufacture and processing of the company’s products.
Batch production allows Casio to alter its production quickly to meet demand, and means that faults can be monitored and limited to small quantities.
Ikea is famous across the world for its flat-pack furniture, which has become hugely popular for being affordable, practical and stylish.The products are designed in Sweden – giving them the well-loved Nordic touch – but their manufacturing takes place elsewhere, in countries such as China, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Ikea products are manufactured using batch production on a large scale so that the company has the flexibility to manufacture products to meet consumer demand – and ensure it doesn’t make a quantity of products that can’t be sold.
German engineering group Siemens has been innovating in the use of batch production by incorporating process automation within its factory automation offering. This allows the company to bid for projects that involve smaller batch and hybrid production.
An example of this is Siemens’ project with BioNTech to produce cancer treatments. BioNTech uses Siemens’ software to manufacture small batches of drugs personalised for patients – a growing trend in the pharmaceutical sector.
- Whittakers Chocolate
You’ve probably seen the label ‘small batch roasted’ on coffee, but roasting cocoa beans is a similar art.
Well-loved brand Whittakers Chocolate is known for its use of batch production, and prides itself on being the only major chocolate maker in New Zealand do this themselves.
So what’s the advantage of using this method for chocolate? It’s all about optimising flavour. The beans have to be sorted so only those of the same size are roasted together, and beans have varying moisture content that affects the roasting process. Roasting the beans to ensure the flavour attributes you want to enhance is a finer art that involves altering roasting temperatures and times for different batches.
Whittakers also employs batch production for its bars – meaning they can easily switch between production of their different items.
- Epic Brewing
Like many brewers, New-Zealand craft brewer Epic Brewing uses batch production for its beer. Epic Brewing is a family business, but has grown to more than a dozen employees since it was founded 15 years ago.
Epic Brewing incorporated Unleashed’s batch tracking feature into its food safety programme to ensure accountability and efficiency in its production. The batch tracking software enables the business to track and trace all its products, and speed up its food safety checks.
- Brandini Toffee
Californian artisanal toffee maker Brandini Toffee dates back to 2006, when two friends raised money for a trip to Italy by making toffee. The company has grown rapidly since – 30% plus year on year.
Like many other food and beverage manufacturers, Brandini produces its toffee goods in batches. Again, this limits any potential defects to small quantities, and allows the company to switch their manufacturing to similar products as and when needed.
Brandini uses Unleashed inventory management software to maintain high-level product visibility – and uses its batch-tracking feature to achieve product traceability from the raw goods right through manufacturing to sale.
Why do businesses use batch production?
Businesses use batch production because it allows for mass production while enabling tweaks or changes to the products along the way. As such it can be thought of as a sort of middle ground between job-shop manufacturing and mass manufacturing.
Batch production offers many benefits, including increased efficiency, the ability to tweak the production line as required, and the option to respond to changing customer demands.
In particular, businesses use batch production for these reasons:
- To streamline production: Producing the same or similar products in batches is far more efficient than doing so in a more bespoke manner. Investing in general-purpose production equipment enables a business to manufacture the same or similar goods in bulk, and in stages. The ability to bulk produce in this way saves on time, as well as materials and labour costs.
- To ensure quality: Batch production takes place in stages, which means quality can be checked at each step. If there are issues that arise at a particular stage, they can be dealt with before the next batch of product is moved into that stage. This ability to deal with concerns or quality issues in stages means flawed batches of products can be prevented from going all the way through the manufacturing process before issues are resolved.
- To have the ability to create different products: One of the key benefits of batch production is the ability to create similar products on the same machinery. If the business is a bakery, for example, it can make batches of different types of bread on the same machine. If the business is in fashion, different colours and/or types of fabrics can be processed. As such, the versatility of batch production can be incredibly useful for a business if it wants to expand into different products, or try different versions of a popular product. When using the machinery for different types of goods, it will be important to have software in place supporting the change.
- To allow for customisation: The ability to create slightly different goods on the same machinery is also beneficial when dealing with customers who may request slight changes to the original product. It can also be useful when market trends shift, for example as the popularity of certain colours change with the seasons. Batch production enables these sorts of changes to be made to a limited number of items in a batch or batches, without causing major disruptions to the overall flow of the business.
Is batch manufacturing right for your business?
To work out if batch manufacturing is right for you, the first – most obvious – question you need to ask is: How will using batch production benefit my business?
When you ask this question, it’s important to take into account of:
- The cost of production equipment
- The end product
- Staffing and equipment requirements
- Management of raw materials
- The need for consistency of product
- Customer demand
With its many benefits, batch production may seems a no-brainer for many manufacturers. But there are certain industries that suit batch production more than others.
Some further considerations to make are:
- Batch production is bulk but not bespoke
This style of manufacturing is ideal when there is bulk production of the same or very similar goods – for example, food, furniture, electronic goods, and clothing. Batch production is not suitable for production of individual highly bespoke goods, or products that are being made for a very niche or changeable customer base.
- Batch production requires consistency to justify investment
The cost-effectiveness of batch production also relies, to a certain extent, on demand for the product being consistent over a period of time. There will be an upfront capital investment in any machinery, and it will need to ‘pay its way’ by creating products over the medium to long term.
Batch production is also particularly useful when there is a set time at which the machinery will regularly be changed to a different setting – for example when different clothing is made for different seasons.
- Mass or job production may suit you better
Other types of production may be more suitable for different types of business. Mass production is more suitable for large numbers of the same product, as it involves continuous delivery of goods. Job production is more suitable for bespoke or highly detailed products, as it involves each product being made in full before the next product is started.
How do you optimise batch production?
The key to running an effective batch production operation is ensuring it’s optimised. There are several steps to take to optimise your output using this method:
- Operate effective production scheduling
As with many production methods, you now have the option to automate when manufacturing in batches, but with oversight of a labour force as required. However, it is important to ensure the ‘hands on deck’ are being utilised as best possible when they are not needed on the production line. Ensure your staff are scheduled to work in a way that best takes advantage of their skill sets, and when they are not needed on the production line ensure their time is well spent elsewhere. Front-end labour planning will have a significant flow-on effect for your production process.
- Consider how many products are needed
Assess the value of the different products being created and ensure those in greatest demand are prioritised. If only a small number of customers want a particular type of product, assess how viable it is for your business’ bottom line. If it creates a strain on finances, consider pulling back on the offering.
- Raise the price of bespoke goods
If there is demand for a particular product that is more difficult to produce or uses higher cost materials, ensure that cost is reflected in your pricing. Using batch production does require the manufacturing of a certain number of products, but there may be room to create smaller batches of lower demand products if they are priced right to the end customer.
- Have the right software
To streamline the batch production process, effective inventory management is key to ensuring continuity – otherwise you could end up with a problem of storage due to overstocking, or need to halt production due to lack of raw materials. Inventory management will also affect your production scheduling, since you’ll have visibility over what materials are needed for your product batches and when. Lastly, a batch-tracking function will allow for total oversight of materials and the finished goods they’re made from – to ensure you can track any faulty materials, maintain clarity on your profit margins, and deal with any recalls and defects quickly and efficiently.
- Learn more: Batch tracking with Unleashed