Then there were six

There used to be five recognised types of manufacturing, now says Excell Metal Spinning's Curtis Bligh, we need to consider a sixth.

THE UK manufacturing industry remains in the driving seat when it comes to exporting with 53 per cent of global exports worth over £273 billion to the UK economy. The UK manufacturing sector accounts for £192 billion of output and contributes to 66 per cent of all UK R&D (MakeUK Report). It is evident that manufacturing is playing a big role within the UK, but some fail to recognise the processes that form most manufacturing environments.

There are five general categories of manufacturing processes which are Repetitive manufacturing, Discrete manufacturing, Job shop manufacturing, Batch production manufacturing and finally continuous process manufacturing. Yet with the rapid advancement of modern-day technology, industry experts have argued that a sixth process be recognised in the form of 3D printing. Let’s explore these processes further.

Repetitive manufacturing

In this environment, manufacturers who adopt repetitive manufacturing processes are committed to a production rate. Production lines are therefore committed to producing the same product or components (or the same family of products and components) 24/7 throughout the year.

This process requires minimal setup and therefore operational speeds can be used to increase and decrease production in line to meet the manufacturer’s customer requirements. Should production be overwhelmed with demand, additional production lines can be added easily with minimal setup. On some occasions, manufacturers can operate a second production line using discrete processes when demand is not large enough for a product or component.

Manufacturers of electronic goods, durable consumer goods (i.e. washing machines) and automobiles are prime examples who utilise this process. CNC metal spinning can help establish repetitive manufacturing processes, especially when integrating robotics in the production line.

Discrete manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing is somewhat like repetitive manufacturing processes in that it utilises production lines when manufacturing products or components. This process, however, is largely diverse in comparison and covers a range of setup and changeover frequencies. Discrete processes are heavily impacted on the design of products and components which can be highly disparate.

If the products or components being manufactured are extremely different, this will have an impact on the setup and tear-down frequencies and therefore will lengthen the time of the production process.

Manufacturers of Automobiles also utilise this process alongside manufacturers of aircraft, furniture, toys and smartphones. Metal spinners like Excell often benefit from discrete manufacturing processes.

Job shop 

Job shop manufacturing processes differ from their discrete and repetitive counterparts by making use of production areas rather than production lines. This process is best suited for small batches of bespoke products or components that are made-to-order (MTO) or made-to-stock (MTS). It is therefore rare for Job shops to have production lines.

Job shop manufacturing is designed to make one version of a custom product and if customer demand is high for a bespoke product or component, the production line can utilise discrete processes with selected labour/automation.

Machine shop manufacturers are great examples of those who use job shop manufacturing processes. Here, they can use this process to manufacture parts for local industrial machinery, boats and ships as well as batches of specialised components for the aircraft industry.

Continuous process manufacturing

This process is similar to repetitive manufacturing because they both run 24/7. On the other hand, continuous process manufacturing differentiates itself from repetitive processes because the materials used in production are gases, liquids, powders or slurries. In the mining industry, for example, the production materials can be granular or chunky.

The design of products is similar but will change if the discipline to create final products or the production process itself is more diverse.

Batch process manufacturing

This process shares characteristics with discrete and job shop processes in manufacturing. It is dependent on the level of consumer demand and demand can be met by one batch for example. The equipment used in the production of products or components would be cleaned upon batch completion, and ready to use for the next batch when needed. The nature of batch processes is continuous.

A continuous batch process can be achieved when the raw materials cannot be made to a strict standard. In addition, the product ingredients (raw materials) used are similar and the production process is more diverse, just like continuous process manufacturing.

Metal spinners like ourselves would often utilise this form of manufacturing alongside discrete and job shop manufacturing. Other examples of manufacturers who would utilise this form of manufacturing process include pharmaceuticals, fast food chains, books/newspapers, clothing, baked goods and electrical goods.

3D printing

It is widely accepted by industry experts that a sixth process should be included when talking about the different types of manufacturing processes, especially considering the rapid advancement of technology. Since 1981, when 3D printing was first introduced, the industry has grown rapidly across the world. In 2020, the worldwide market for 3D printing was £11.9 billion and by 2024, is expected to exceed £30.6 billion (Wohlers Associates, 2020). In the last five years, according to Katana, there has been an 875 per cent growth in the last five years and remains a potential avenue of manufacturing despite the processes itself still in its infancy.

3D printing processes can produce three-dimensional objects by depositing materials layer by layer in accordance with the product or component’s 3D digital model. Many organisations within the manufacturing industry utilise this technique including Ford and Boeing as well as Nike and Hershey’s.

As a metal spinner, it is important that we are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each manufacturing process. By having a better understanding, we can adopt specific processes where they are deemed necessary. In doing so, we can continue to empower our customers with effective supply, achieving high quality and maintaining reliability.

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