Process manufacturing is an approach to producing goods in which ingredients or constituents are mixed together and then subjected to a series of actions until the product reaches its final formulation and state. Actions performed on the combined ingredients vary widely and include curing, baking, pressurizing, pasteurizing, and chemically catalyzing or reacting. Once a product has been made through process manufacturing and reaches its final form, it typically cannot be broken back down into its constituents.
Key industries that rely on process manufacturing include consumer packaged goods (CPG), food and beverage (F&B), and fine and specialty chemicals.
Goods produced through process manufacturing are made in batches – finite quantities usually measured in mass or volume – or via continuous-flow processing. In batch processing, the sequence of process operations for a particular product is performed on a batch-by-batch basis. In continuous-flow processing, units of the materials/intermediate products move from one processing step to the next with no breaks, such that each processing step is being performed on a continuing basis, proceeding from one unit to the next.
A process manufacturing industry is often required to track processing parameters and testing results for each batch, or at set intervals based on volume or mass in continuous-flow processing. This requirement may be handled through paper records, but process industries are adopting electronic batch records (eBRs) for manufacturing more and more to streamline recordkeeping.
Importantly, a majority of process manufacturers also package their goods, which means they must manage a dual value chain: a batch or continuous-flow process for the primary product and a discrete manufacturing operation for filling, packaging, and palletizing. In a significant subset of process industries, such as tire and battery production, discrete manufacturing steps extend beyond packaging and are integral to the creation of finished product. Both these integral steps and discrete packaging steps necessitate manufacturing operations management (MOM) software for process industries that is designed to manage the operational characteristics of both discrete and process manufacturing, which differ considerably.
A process manufacturing industry focuses its operations on formulas, master recipes, and master batches (tracked through master batch records (MBR) instead of the materials, machining, and assemblies on which discrete manufacturing operations typically focus. As a result, Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) solutions and especially manufacturing execution systems (MES) must track operational parameters not typically tracked in discrete manufacturing, such as temperature, time under a specific pressure, or acidity.
The testing and tracking of raw materials may be more critical and challenging in process industries than in discrete industries because variations in a raw material’s chemical composition, species, ripeness, growing locale, weather conditions, and numerous other factors may markedly change the properties and characteristics of the finished product. MES for process industries must provide material management capabilities that not only track these raw material characteristics but also the characteristics of intermediate and final products as a set of ingredients undergoes conversion through the process steps.
Process manufacturing software also has to manage different quality-related issues than discrete manufacturing software. The often-irreversible changes that materials undergo in process manufacturing are managed through different inspection procedures than discrete manufacturing requires: while discrete works-in-progress may be inspected visually, mechanically or electrically, processed products usually require frequent sampling and some form of laboratory testing. These demands are managed through MES software as well as quality management system (QMS) software and oftentimes a laboratory information management system (LIMS), each tailored for process operations.
One additional demand on MES for process industries is the need for both formula management software and spec management software. A single specification for a product – for example, a unique and recognizable taste for a company’s orange juice – may require different formulations from region to region to account for the differences in orange sugar content and flavor, which depend on the variety, growing region, and growing season.
Modern MES for process industries allows process manufacturing companies to implement highly efficient and flexible operations while also ensuring the highest quality in their finished products.