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Discrete manufacturing is an approach to industrial production that results in individual final products. This is accomplished by taking incoming materials, parts, components, and/or subassemblies through a series of production steps that may include machining, assembly, etching, fastening, polishing, stitching, packaging, and more. Discrete manufacturing results in final products that are distinct from one another and can be counted. It also typically produces items that can be broken down in their component parts.
These two features distinguish discrete manufacturing from process manufacturing, which produces products typically measured in mass or volume. These products, such as shampoos or fruit juices, cannot be counted individually, and they often undergo irreversible changes that make it impossible to break them back down to their constituents.
Discrete manufacturing examples range from nanotechnologies to airliners. While electronics & semiconductors, automotive & transportation, and aerospace & defense industries represent some of the most prevalent discrete manufacturing examples, a broad spectrum of other industries rely on discrete manufacturing processes to produce their goods. These include:
It should be noted that the manufacture of numerous products involves both discrete and process operations. To make glass bottles, for example, one must create the glass through process manufacturing, then produce the individual bottles through discrete manufacturing.
Discrete manufacturing techniques and technologies have progressed through all four industrial revolutions, advancing from craft manufacturing through mass production and computer automation to Industry 4.0 interconnectivity, real-time data, smart devices, and autonomous systems. Discrete manufacturers sustain or grow their competitive edge today by implementing digital tools and systems through discrete manufacturing software solutions.
Discrete manufacturing companies have long employed computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) digital tools in their design and engineering efforts, and more recently they have been implementing software that interconnects CAD/CAM tools, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business systems, to the manufacturing floor. Manufacturing operations management (MOM) software orchestrates the actual production of a finished product based on business, design, and engineering data. By connecting the virtual realm to the physical manufacturing floor, MOM software for discrete manufacturing enables companies to optimize production performance, improve efficiency and flexibility, and maximize on-time deliveries.
Process manufacturing vs. discrete manufacturing software differ considerably when it comes to MOM functionality. This is because process manufacturing focuses on formulas, master recipes, and master batches, while discrete manufacturing focuses on materials, machining, and assemblies. The different operational parameters and key performance indicators (KPIs) measured and tracked for the two manufacturing approaches place different demands on MOM systems and require software tailored to those demands in order to maximize the benefits of software implementation. To illustrate the differences, discrete manufacturing works-in-progress (WIPs) may be inspected visually, mechanically or electrically, while process manufacturing inspection involves frequent sampling and laboratory testing.
A central pillar of MOM software for discrete manufacturing is the manufacturing execution system (MES).MES for discrete manufacturing has become indispensable for a high percentage of discrete manufacturers as they contend with new markets, new materials, and new production technologies, as well as a growing complexity in final products and the supply chain that supports them. Companies must sustain or accelerate plant efficiency and productivity, and also realize extreme flexibility in all manufacturing processes.
Key features of MES for discrete manufacturing include:
While a small fraction of discrete manufacturing endeavors remain in the realm of manual craftsmanship, the vast majority of discrete manufacturers leverage discrete manufacturing software to maximize both the productivity of their facilities and the quality of their finished products.