How you assemble your products decides how efficiently your manufacturing business operates. Labour and technique impact production costs, while accuracy and quality affect customer satisfaction. The solution to high costs and inefficient production is to implement the best manufacturing processes for your requirements.
To help you identify the optimal solution for your business, we look at 16 of the most effective methods and processes in manufacturing, how they work, and who they’re suitable for.
In this list of manufacturing processes
What are manufacturing processes?
Manufacturing processes are how a business produces the products they sell. They include all the production methods used to convert raw materials or components into a finished good.
In most industries, the manufacturing process begins with the acquisition of raw materials – either natural resources or pre-processed materials. Once received, those raw materials are cut, shaped, refined, or blended with other materials to create a saleable item.
In a smoothie manufacturing business, that process might look like this:
- Berries and bananas are purchased from a supplier
- Berries are checked for quality, weighed, and added to a large mixer
- Bananas are checked for quality, peeled, weighed, and added to the mixer
- Liquids and flavour enhancers are added to the mixer
- The smoothie mixture is distributed into cartons on a conveyor belt
- Cartons are sealed and boxed up by factory workers
- The smoothies are shipped to the manufacturer’s customers
Modern manufacturing processes involve a combination of machinery and automated technology systems. This can include computer-controlled equipment, robotics, and computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems. These technologies help streamline production, reduce errors, and increase output.
A manufacturing process can also include quality control measures, inspections, testing, and monitoring at different stages of production. These elements ensure the products meet the required standards and design specifications and enable workers to address any defects or errors that may have occurred at each step.
Manufacturing processes and the wider business strategy
Factors such as workforce optimisation, logistics, and supply chain management also play important roles in the manufacturing process.
While there are many production techniques we can apply to improve efficiency, the most effective manufacturing processes rely on strong integrations with other business functions.
Systemised scheduling, inventory management, and coordination with suppliers and distributors are essential for smooth end-to-end operations and timely delivery of the finished products. The ongoing advancement of technology ensures businesses can continue to evolve the way they manufacture products.
When deciding which manufacturing processes to implement in your business, consider the wider business strategy and what you’ll need from different departments to get the job done.
Types of manufacturing processes
The various types of manufacturing processes serve the diverse needs of industries and businesses that exist. Which process type you ought to use will depend on several factors, including:
- Material compatibility
- Product complexity
- Intended use
- Cost and efficiency
- Product design
- Customisation capabilities
- Environmental impact
Let’s look at five of the most common types of manufacturing processes.
1. Discrete manufacturing
Discrete manufacturing is a type of production process that entails the building of distinct and individual items. The result consists of identifiable units with unique characteristics, unlike continuous manufacturing where identical products are produced in a continuous flow.
You’ll hear Bill of Materials (BOM) mentioned in conjunction with discrete manufacturing. This is a detailed list of all the components, parts, and materials needed to create a specific product.
In some cases, items are produced in batches or lots – known as batch production – where a certain number of identical units are manufactured before moving on to the next batch. This type of manufacturing is well-suited to customisable products, as each unit can be tailored to meet specific customer requirements of variations.
Discrete manufacturing is prevalent where products are assembled from individual parts or components. Examples include computers, household appliances, furniture, and machinery.
2. Repetitive manufacturing
Repetitive manufacturing is a type of production process that results in a standardised output of goods. Identical or highly similar products are manufactured in large quantities using an automatic chain of actions.
Repetitive manufacturing aims to achieve high levels of efficiency while producing a large volume of consistently identical items. This manufacturing method is ideal if you have products with stable and predictable demand.
Because the process is consistent and repetitious, it’s difficult to allow for customisation or variations. The cycle time from start to finish is typically short. This makes repetitive manufacturing a preferred method for mass production of goods.
3. Batch manufacturing
Batch manufacturing is a production process that creates goods in groups or batches. A set quantity of products is manufactured at the same time, following a particular recipe, formula or set of instructions.
This method is commonly used by companies that sell products with limited quantities, a short shelf life, or that require specific formulations. For example, businesses inside the pharmaceutical, food and beverage, cosmetics, and chemical sectors.
Each batch is its own distinct unit and can be tracked separately as it moves through the manufacturing process. This enables a greater level of quality control and flexibility and removes some of the challenges of conducting a product recall.
4. Job shop manufacturing
Job shop manufacturing is the method of fulfilling custom or specialised orders – the production of goods that require unique processing. This type of manufacturing process is most common in industries where products require personalisation, such as metal fabrication, custom furniture, and printing.
Due to the complex production tasks involved, this manufacturing process typically relies more heavily on skilled labour than automation and robotics.
Job shop manufacturing has a longer lead time for production. Careful planning and scheduling are required to ensure efficient use of resources and timely delivery. On the flip side, the ability to handle diverse and one-off items offers a significant advantage.
5. Continuous manufacturing
Continuous manufacturing involves the non-stop creation of goods. Materials are perpetually entered into the manufacturing process and finished products are continuously exiting the production line. This results in the production of a large volume of items in a short cycle of time.
This method of manufacturing allows for a steady output and uses automated machinery and control systems to maintain a smooth product flow. Because it’s characterised by consistent quality and reduced production times, continuous manufacturing is the optimal choice for achieving efficient processes in large-scale production operations.
Continuous manufacturing requires a significant initial investment in automation and infrastructure. However, the ‘economies of scale’ reduce production costs per unit, making it a cost-effective long-term approach.
With less material handling required, the downtime created by frequent changeovers and setup is less of a problem when compared with other types of manufacturing processes. But the uninterrupted flow means that variations and customisations aren’t readily available, so it’s unsuitable for businesses with custom features.
The 7 main processes of manufacturing
Let’s now turn our attention to the specific processes used by manufacturers to produce goods. This will give you an idea of how goods are manufactured and which method is best suited to different materials and products.
Machining is a manufacturing process that involves shaping and removing material from a workpiece to create a desired shape, size, or finish. This technique is used to produce a wide range of precision parts and components used in various industries.
The machining process can be applied to various materials – such as metals, plastics, wood, and composites – making it versatile for different applications.
In manufacturing, joining refers to the process of connecting or assembling two or more items to form a single, unified structure.
Joining involves a variety of techniques, including:
- Adhesive bonding
- Mechanical fastening (e.g., screws and rivets)
- Interlocking mechanisms
Each method is chosen based on factors like the materials being joined, the strength required, and the specific application.
Casting is a manufacturing process that involves pouring a liquid material – often molten metal or alloy – into a mould to create a solid object. This method is employed to produce components with intricate designs and complex forms that would be challenging or costly to create using other production techniques.
Forming involves shaping and transforming raw materials – typically sheet metal or other malleable materials – into shapes or structures using various mechanical or thermal methods.
Types of forming in manufacturing include:
- Deep Drawing
Forming enables manufacturers to manipulate materials into their necessary forms, from simple bends and curves to complex and intricate webbing.
In manufacturing, moulding is the process of shaping a material, often in a semi-liquid or liquid state, by pouring or pressing it into a mould cavity. The material cools, solidifies, or cures inside the mould, taking on the shape of the mould cavity.
This method of production is used to create a wide range of products with consistent shapes and dimensions, such as plastic bottles, toys, and toilet seats.
Different types of moulding include:
- Injection moulding
- Compression moulding
- Blow moulding
- Rotational moulding
Assembly is the process of combining individual components or parts to create a finished product. It involves connecting, fitting, and joining various elements in a systematic way to form a complete and functional unit. Assembly can be carried out manually by skilled workers or using automated machinery and robots depending on the complexity of the product and the required production volume.
Finishing is the last stage of the production process. It is the step in which additional treatments, processes, or coatings are applied to a product to enhance its appearance, functionality, and overall quality.
The goal of finishing is to refine the final product, ensuring it meets specific design requirements, surface characteristics, and performance standards before it is ready for use or sale.
4 commercial manufacturing processes
The commercial manufacturing processes a company uses ultimately decides how quickly things get done. As Henry Ford once said, “The easiest of all wastes and the hardest to correct is the waste of time, because wasted time does not litter the floor like wasted material.”
Let’s look at four of the most useful commercial manufacturing processes.
8. Additive manufacturing process
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a process that creates three-dimensional objects by adding material layer by layer based on a digital design or model.
Unlike subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing builds the product from scratch, presenting unique and highly complex design possibilities. This process results in minimal waste because it only uses what materials are necessary to construct the item.
Additive manufacturing is also ideal for customisation and small-scale production, and it is often used for prototyping and iteration of products.
9. Metal manufacturing process
Metal manufacturing is a broad term that covers the various processes involved in shaping, forming, and assembling metal materials to create a wide range of products and components. This production process involves the use of raw metals, metal alloys, or metal sheets.
10. Plastic manufacturing process
Plastic manufacturing is a multifunctional process in which plastic products and components are created using synthetic polymer materials. Plastics offer versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness, making plastic manufacturing popular across multiple industries and sectors.
Common processes involved in plastic manufacturing include:
- Resin production
- Injection moulding
- Blow moulding
- Rotational moulding
11. Process manufacturing
Process manufacturing is a method that produces goods through a series of continuous or sequential processes. Unlike discrete manufacturing, where individual units are produced separately, process manufacturing creates products through chemical reactions, mixing, blending, and other transformational processes.
5 advanced manufacturing methods
Technology continues to revolutionise the way we produce goods. The manufacturing sector has been transformed by advances in machinery, robotics, and computer-aided design. Some of the processes supporting this technological revolution are outlined below.
12. Cloud manufacturing
Cloud manufacturing leverages cloud computing, data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to optimise how traditional manufacturing processes are carried out.
In cloud manufacturing, the design, production, and management of manufacturing operations are integrated into a cloud-based platform.
The advantages of cloud manufacturing include:
- Real-time data accuracy
- Optimised manufacturing accounting
- On-demand services
- Resource optimisation
- Live data analytics
13. Lean manufacturing
Lean manufacturing is a manufacturing process that optimises production to minimise waste and costs, improve lead times, and increase customer satisfaction. The concept originated in Japan in the 1940s, at a Toyota car manufacturing facility.
Since its inception, lean manufacturing has been adopted by businesses across different sectors and industries around the world. Lean manufacturing continues to evolve thanks to modern innovations like autonomous robots, machine learning, and manufacturing software.
14. Mass production
Mass production is where large quantities of standardised products are produced at a high rate using assembly lines and specialised machinery. This approach aims to achieve economies of scale and efficiency by streamlining production processes, reducing costs, and meeting widespread consumer demands.
Mass production has been a significant driver of industrial growth and consumer access to a wide variety of affordable products. However, it’s important to note that mass production may not be suitable for products that require high levels of customisation production processes.
15. Mass customisation
Mass customisation is a manufacturing strategy that combines the benefits of mass production with the ability to tailor products to meet individual customer needs and preferences.
This production process allows companies to offer a wide range of product variations without sacrificing the efficiency and economies of scale associated with traditional mass production methods.
Mass customisation represents a shift towards more customer-centric manufacturing, where businesses aim to strike a balance between offering tailored products and preserving operational efficiency.
By empowering customers with choices while maintaining economies of scale, mass customisation enables businesses to meet diverse market demands and foster stronger customer loyalty.
16. Artificial Intelligence (AI) manufacturing
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in manufacturing refers to the application of advanced machine learning algorithms, data analytics, and computer vision technologies to enhance various aspects of the manufacturing process.
AI is used to optimise production, increase efficiency, improve quality, reduce downtime, and enable predictive maintenance by assessing vast amounts of data and making data-driven decisions in real time.
AI-driven robots can also perform repetitive tasks with precision and consistency, increasing manufacturing speed and reducing the need for human intervention. AI can also enable mass customisation by analysing customer data and preferences, allowing manufacturers to produce personalised products efficiently.
The best manufacturing processes for your business
If you’re a manufacturer, here are the considerations you should use to determine the best process for you:
- Product design and requirements: Understand the specific design requirements and functionalities of the product. Consider factors such as size, complexity, material properties, and any unique features needed.
- Quantity and production volume: Calculate expected demand and production volume. Different manufacturing processes are suitable for different production quantities. For high volumes, mass production methods may be more efficient, while lower volumes may benefit from custom manufacturing techniques.
- Material selection: Identify the appropriate materials for the product. Some manufacturing processes work better with certain materials than others. Consider factors such as strength, durability, cost, and environmental impact.
- Cost analysis: Conduct a comprehensive cost analysis that includes upfront equipment and tooling costs, labour expenses, material costs, and ongoing production expenses. Compare the cost of different manufacturing methods to find the most cost-effective option.
- Time-to-market: Assess the desired time-to-market for the product. Some manufacturing processes offer faster production times than others, which can be crucial in meeting market demands and staying competitive.
- Quality and standards: Consider the required product quality and any industry standards or certifications that must be met. Certain manufacturing processes may offer better control over product quality or be necessary to meet specific standards.
- Flexibility and customisation: Quantify the level of flexibility and customisation required for the product. If the product needs to be highly customised or easily adaptable, some manufacturing processes, such as additive manufacturing, may be more suitable.
- Sustainability and environmental impact: Evaluate the environmental impact of each manufacturing process, including waste generation, energy usage, and carbon footprint. Choose methods that align with your business’s sustainability goals.
- Equipment and expertise: Understand existing manufacturing capabilities and expertise within the business. Consider whether new equipment or specialised knowledge is required for a specific process.
- Risk assessment: Consider potential risks associated with each manufacturing process, such as supply chain vulnerabilities, technological challenges, or changes in demand. Evaluate how these risks align with your business’s risk tolerance.