5 Ways Discrete Manufacturing Companies Can Improve Their Processes

In discrete manufacturing, each part and process plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the final product. Flexibility and comprehensive traceability are essential for achieving success in this field. However, optimizing these processes can feel like navigating a complex maze, with every turn presenting a new set of decisions and challenges.

Whether you're looking to streamline your production processes, enhance collaboration between engineers and technicians, or ensure advanced traceability of your products, we're here to guide you through the strategies that can help make your factory more efficient.

Join us as we explore the nuances that set discrete manufacturing apart from process manufacturing and uncover the best practices that can future-proof your operations.

Discrete Manufacturing: The Basics

The manufacturing industry is so vast that there are multiple types of manufacturing approaches that are determined based on the type of products being developed. The method a business uses to produce its products depends largely on the nature of the raw materials, components, and chemicals involved.

One of the most common types of manufacturing is discrete manufacturing. Discrete manufacturing is a method of production where individual, distinct products are assembled from separate parts. Each unit produced in discrete manufacturing is identifiable and often involves complex assembly operations. As TechTarget explains, these products are distinct items capable of being easily counted, touched, or seen. Airplanes, vehicles, robots, and heavy machinery are some examples of what is classified as discrete.

Typically, discrete products can be taken apart at the end of their lifecycle so their basic components can be reused or recycled. This type of manufacturing often requires factoring in changeovers and setup time.

Complex discrete manufacturing often involves advanced tracking and traceability systems to manage components, subassemblies, and final products throughout the production lifecycle

Discrete Manufacturing vs Process Manufacturing

On the other side of the manufacturing spectrum is process manufacturing. Comparing discrete vs process manufacturing helps provide additional context when evaluating tools, software, and frameworks for success. Simply put, process manufacturing creates a product based on a formula. Using raw materials, such as gases, liquids, and powders, manufacturers use a recipe or formula to combine and process them. The result is a product that can’t be broken down into its original components. Think of products like food and beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, or chemicals.

When it comes to process vs discrete manufacturing, the needs of these two factories differ. The latter relies on formulas, purchasing ingredients by volume, and mixing. The former requires distinct parts and components for assembly. Today, we focus on operational improvement for discrete manufacturing.

Strategies for Enhancing Discrete Manufacturing Processes

With new AI and ML technologies cropping up at breakneck speed, understanding how to future-proof your factory is essential. Here are some of the best strategies for improving discrete manufacturing processes while remaining flexible enough to pivot strategies in an ever-changing industry.

1. Leverage Cloud Technology for Improved Efficiency and Connectivity

First, it’s time to let your legacy on-premises technology be a thing of the past. In the era of Industry 4.0, adopting cloud software is non-negotiable for discrete manufacturers aiming to enhance efficiency through integrated best-of-breed solution stacks.

Invest in flexible solutions that offer an open API for seamless integration with your other software (CAD, PLM, ERP), IoT devices, robots, and machines, and AI algorithms. Use logic-based workflows to automate production lines, reduce manual errors, and leverage data insights. These technologies work together to create a truly smart factory significantly enhancing the efficiency and optimization of your discrete manufacturing processes.

2. Optimize Inventory Management

Although process manufacturing faces significant inventory management challenges due to material expiration dates, discrete manufacturing also has its own set of inventory management concerns to address. Excess stock or shortages can disrupt production schedules and inflate costs.

Effective inventory management improves all aspects of the supply chain by ensuring that the right components and materials are available when needed, minimizing production delays and downtime. It also helps in maintaining optimal stock levels, reducing excess inventory costs and storage requirements.

Still, strategies such as Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory can minimize waste and ensure materials are available exactly when needed. Software tools that provide real-time visibility into inventory levels, expected inventory consumption, and scheduled inventory deliveries enable better demand forecasting and planning, leading to improved delivery timelines and data-driven decisions on procurement.

Engineer using tablet at car manufacturing factory

3. Enhance Quality Traceability

Implementing robust traceability systems allows manufacturers to track each component's journey through the production process, facilitating quick responses to quality issues and recalls. Granular traceability is especially crucial for manufacturers needing to comply with regulations because it ensures comprehensive documentation and tracking of every component, material, and process used in production down to the purchase order number. This level of visibility is essential for meeting stringent regulatory standards, as it allows manufacturers to provide proof of compliance, maintain quality control, and quickly identify and address any issues that arise. Traceability not only keeps your factory operating smoothly in the face of the unknown but is also essential for meeting regulatory standards and ensuring end user satisfaction.

While there are varying levels of traceability, some modern MES options provide advanced traceability, providing a living digital thread throughout the manufacturing process and beyond. Learn more about how ION supports the traceability needed by AGILE Space Industries.

4. Streamline Production Planning

Many manufacturers still use spreadsheets, whiteboards, and paper-based systems for production scheduling, tracking production activities, and timelines. By manually recording and monitoring material usage, inventory levels, and production plans, inaccuracies and bottlenecks become the bane of a discrete manufacturer’s existence.

Without advanced software, manufacturers cannot easily access historical data or sales orders to accurately forecast future material needs. Instead, they rely on a significant amount of guesswork and intuition.

While these manual methods may have worked for manufacturers in the past, they are becoming even less efficient, more prone to errors, and harder to scale compared to technology-based solutions. Technology, such as MRP software, offers significant advantages in accuracy, efficiency, and overall effectiveness in managing material requirements and production processes.

Digital tools automate scheduling, taking into account various constraints and optimizing the use of machinery and labor to ensure operations process smoothly from start to finish. Advanced planning systems can even adapt to changes in real time to reduce downtime and further improve productivity.

5. Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement in manufacturing is an ongoing effort to enhance products by making incremental improvements. This philosophy is rooted in the belief that there is always room for improvement, no matter how efficient or effective current operations might be.

Creating a culture that values continuous improvement is key to sustaining efficiency gains in the big picture. Regularly measuring and analyzing key performance indicators (KPIs) helps identify areas for improvement. Continuous improvement involves setting targets and using data to drive decision-making.

Providing access to analytics across the factory and encouraging collaboration and input from technicians in process improvement can lead to innovative solutions and a more engaged workforce over time. Continuous improvement involves acting on this feedback to enhance processes and products. Technologies like ION Factory OS include features that make it easy for technicians to provide feedback to engineers in real-time on where processes and parts could be improved or need to be scrapped altogether, contributing to a culture of continuous improvement.

Make sure your discrete manufacturing facility is considering how adopting the latest technology can help accelerate timelines while improving processes. Competitive, forward thinking discrete complex manufacturing teams use ION Factory OS to build, iterate, and track changes from prototype through production to streamline their processes.

Learn more about ION today.