Discrete vs. Process and Batch Manufacturing: What’s the Difference?

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Many people, including software developers, believe that if you’ve seen one manufacturer, you’ve seen them all. And nothing could be further from the truth.

Discrete manufacturing encompasses a large portion of manufacturers. However, a study suggests that as much as 30% of the industry is dedicated to process or batch manufacturing. That’s no niche segment; rather, it’s a very significant portion of the market.

Discrete v process manufacturing

Since Discrete embodies the “traditional” view of manufacturing and is the largest segment, logically it gets the most attention. However, the things that make the process and batch manufacturers different are many, and highlight the need for software solutions tailored to their specific needs.

  • Discrete manufacturing is producing a product, using the same parts and the same quantities, with each finished product being identical, every single time. Of course, there are “engineer to order” sub-industries as well, but always based on a fixed bill of materials.
  • Process manufacturing is quite different. Products, such as food, beverages, or chemicals, are made by combining supplies, ingredients, or other raw materials according to a formula (or recipe.) Although the formula is followed, many variables in the process affect each lot differently. Within process manufacturing is specialized batch manufacturing.

Let’s take a closer look at what differentiates these two distinct methodologies.

Bill of Materials Versus Formula

  • Discrete manufacturing: Each SKU (or each product for sale) is associated with a single, fixed bill of materials that never changes unless you modify the product.
  • Batch manufacturing: Here formulas are used, but not with the same 1-to-1 relationship. You can make many different products from the formula. You can also make one product with multiple formulas. As an example, take Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. They make a large batch of beer (one formula) and package it in kegs, cans, and bottles (multiple products.) However, although they brew their signature Pale Ale (one product) in both Mills River, NC, and Chico, CA, the formulas are different, compensating for local water chemistry in order to produce the same flavor.

Parts versus Ingredients

  • Discrete manufacturing: Standard, specific parts are required to produce the same finished product each time. A resistor on a circuit board will always be the same, and it would never be substituted for a different one.
  • Batch manufacturing: The ingredients used in making food or chemicals tend to be from natural sources, which implies that their composition will vary slightly by lot. Therefore, the formula must be adjusted so that the batch of product will remain consistent.

Quality Control: Accept/Reject versus Change/Adapt

  • Discrete manufacturing: If a part does not meet quality standards, it would rarely be adapted to work. It would be rejected and thrown out.
  • chocolate food productionBatch manufacturing: Quality control is present throughout the process at multiple levels. When variance is detected, raw materials are not usually rejected, but rather the formula is adapted to bring the final product up to spec. There is a closer relationship between the Quality Control and Production teams, strengthened through bidirectional communication.


Predictable Yield versus Variable Yield

  • Discrete manufacturing: This many parts are used to produce exactly so many finished products.
  • Batch manufacturers: Yields can vary. In one batch, 100 pounds of raw materials may produce 90 pounds of product. The next batch might yield 85. It’s very hard to predict with precision.

Single Runs versus Multiple Runs

  • Discrete manufacturing: It is not common to have multiple runs within one process.
  • Batch manufacturing: It is possible to have a long run with many batches. Take a large bakery as an example. All products produced with a particular dough recipe during the day would be part of a run. At the front of the production line, someone is mixing flour, water, eggs, and other ingredients and introducing the dough into the machinery. He then gets more ingredients and makes the next batch. Down the line, the first batch makes its way to the proofer, the oven, the divider, packaging, and so on in a continuous, all-day-long flow. For traceability, it’s considered one big run, but there are multiple batches made within that run.

These examples – and many more could be cited – highlight the great differences between discrete and batch manufacturing.


Here’s the main point: Discrete manufacturing makes the same product, with the same types and quantities of materials, every single time. They need software to make sure everything stays consistent. Process and batch manufacturing deal with many variables, thus depending on more flexible software solutions to help them adapt while staying consistent. One size does not fit all.

In my next article, I’ll talk about the key features that batch manufacturers rely on in their software. Read more here. 

If you use a formula or batch in your manufacturing process, we know that you are unique. Let's start the conversation. Contact us online or call 770.421.2467.

By Randy Smith, CEO and Co-Founder, Vicinity Software, www.vicinitysoftware.com

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