Manufacturing is a broad term that covers a range of different tasks and processes. The simple definition of manufacturing is the making of goods using machinery. The manufacturing process describes the steps taken to transform raw materials into finished products.
There are many different manufacturing processes, and they each use specific methods and technology to make products.
This article will give you a brief overview of the processes, approaches, and how they’re used.
A manufacturing process is a system that uses software, machines, and people to produce goods. There are a few different types of processes and different functions that they serve.
Each business and product uses a slightly different process, but they can be grouped into categories. There are 7 different manufacturing processes and 5 approaches that are commonly used.
Here, we’ll explain the types of manufacturing processes, and the equipment that’s used.
Casting is a process where a liquid — usually metal — is poured into a mold. The molten metal is injected into a die under high pressure. The mold cavity is filled, and the pressure is maintained until the casting solidifies. After the metal is left to cool, it’s taken out of the mold. The finished product is called a cast. Other materials like concrete, epoxy, and clay can also be used.
Casting is usually used to make products that have irregular shapes. This process has been used for thousands of years. Things like propellers, traffic lights, and firearm parts are often made using a die-cast.
This process is simple and easy to repeat for large quantities of identical parts. The machinery and tooling to make casts can be expensive, but overall, casting is an efficient production process.
Molding is very similar to casting but uses different materials. Molding uses glass, plastics, and rubber to make products.
Injection molding is a popular manufacturing process that’s used in mass-production to create thousands or even millions of the same part or product. The price tends to drop significantly as more parts are produced, and after the initial costs are paid, the cost per unit is extremely low.
There’s also a common process called bi-valve molding which uses two molds, one for each half of the part.
Forming is when a piece of metal is reshaped, without adding or removing material. This could also be called metal stamping. This is different than casting because the metal isn’t melted.
Depending on the part that’s being formed, the forming process looks slightly different. There is compressive forming and tensile forming.
Compressive forming applies pressure to the raw materials to form the shape of the part. This could be putting the metal through two rollers, stamping the metal around or onto a die, or forging, where the material is shaped by specific compressive forces.
Tensile forming is when pressure is applied to stretch the material. Force is applied to stretch the material or form holes in the metal.
These manufacturing processes are used to add features to the outside of the part. This usually doesn’t change the shape of the part, and is usually a secondary process following another one.
Labeling includes engraving parts, laser engraving, and printing. This is commonly used to add numbers and other important info to parts.
Painting includes adding paint, or additional layers of protection to parts. For metal parts, this could be electroplating parts, adding a powder coat of paint, or heat treating parts. This is mostly done to improve durability and increase the visual appeal.
Joining is a manufacturing process that connects two parts or components.
Joining is usually a permanent connection that’s formed by welding or soldering. Similar to labeling, joining is usually a secondary operation in the manufacturing process. It’s done after the components are formed using a different method.
There are some other methods used for a temporary bond. Glue or epoxy can be used. It’s usually less expensive and easier than welding, but the bond is weaker.
Fasteners can also be used to join multiple components. Screws, bolts, pins, rivets, and nails are all used to connect two parts.
Fasteners have the advantage of being able to disassemble the parts for cleaning or partial replacement, which isn’t possible with a weld or solder.
Machining is a subtractive manufacturing process that cuts away material to form the part.
There is a wide range of cutting and grinding tools that are used to machine parts. Machining is typically used for metal, but wood and plastics can also be machined.
Today, most machining is done by a CNC (computer numerical control) machine. This is a program that’s set up, and then the machine can produce the parts with very little human interaction.
Machines can have multiple cutting and drilling tools, which enables them to make multiple cuts, holes, and other features simultaneously. This makes machining very efficient for complex parts with tight tolerances.
Additive manufacturing is the opposite of subtractive. The most common additive process is 3D printing.
Rather than removing material to form the part, the raw material is added layer by layer. This process has significantly improved in the past decade. Hobbyists and large manufacturers use 3D printing technology to make products.
There are some 3D printers that can use metal, but hard plastics and polymers are the most common materials. A spool of raw material is inserted into the printer, melted, and deposited on a table to form the part.
One of the key benefits of 3D printing is the ability to produce complex shapes that would be unreasonable to make by hand or machining, including hollow parts or parts with internal structures to reduce weight and maintain strength. 3D printing is best for small-batch parts or rapid prototyping.
Most of the manufacturing processes we use today date back to the Industrial Revolution. As technology continued to advance, the processes became easier to understand and follow. Each approach is unique and designed to complete a specific task within different industries.
Continuous process manufacturing is exactly what it sounds like: the continuous production of goods. This process uses machinery to make large quantities of a product. Once the machines are set up, the process can run 24/7 without human intervention.
This process uses liquids, gasses, powders, and various composites to create products. It’s used for medicines, chemicals, paper, and many more consumer products.
Continuous manufacturing processes use a simple production line that can fulfill large orders of the same product with little changeover.
This is best when the market demand is consistent and predictable.
Repetitive manufacturing is very similar to the continuous process manufacturing. The key difference is the raw materials that are used. Repetitive manufacturing uses solid raw materials, like metal, plastics, and wood.
The repetitive process uses computer-controlled robots and other automated equipment to increase production speed and reduce manufacturing costs. Oftentimes, there are production lines that can run 24/7 and produce millions of identical parts every month.
Repetitive manufacturing usually requires little physical labor and has some of the best operation speeds for large-scale manufacturing.
Discrete manufacturing is used when the product or features are changed. Similar to the repetitive manufacturing process, an assembly line and automation is used. The difference is, some changes need to be made more often.
Discrete manufacturing is common in the tech industries that are always making small changes and updates. The changes are usually referred to as a changeover. This requires more human resources and increases the production costs and times.
The batch process manufacturing is also self-explanatory. Instead of nonstop production, batches of the product are made to order, and then there’s a pause in production. This process is used when the customer demand is harder to predict.
After the batch is complete, the equipment is reset or cleaned and then there’s a waiting period until the next batch is ordered.
This manufacturing process could be used for one batch, or multiple batches throughout the year. The batch process is commonly used for small brand food production, or smaller batches of new products when consumer demand is less predictable.
Job shop manufacturing is the least automated manufacturing process. Instead of assembly lines and repetitive manufacturing, job shop manufacturing uses individual production areas.
Each workstation might work on one step of the production process. This is used for low volume orders, and custom products.
For example, a custom computer with different screen sizes, color options, memory, keyboard options, and RAM, could benefit from job shop manufacturing. In this case, one manufacturing process wouldn’t be efficient, because the final product is constantly changing based on individual customer orders.
Rather than dealing with frequent changeovers, each product is sent to a specific workstation to add the necessary features.
This manufacturing approach makes mass customization much easier compared to other production processes. This usually involves more manual processes, and increases the costs of production.
Each one of the manufacturing processes is different, and comes with unique pros and cons. The type of manufacturing you use depends on your industry and the products you need.
Spex has been in the manufacturing industry since 1946. We are an ISO 9001:2015 certified company. Organizations use this standard to demonstrate the ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and regulatory requirements.
We incorporate world-class excellence in every step of the supply chain process: planning, manufacturing, quality control, and delivery.
Reach out to our team if you’re looking for a manufacturing partner and supply chain management partner.
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