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discrete vs. process manufacturing
Midsize business

Discrete vs process manufacturing: What’s best for your business?

Discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing each have specific benefits and are best for particular end-product types. Choosing between them requires understanding their unique characteristics and applications.

Discrete manufacturing uses sequential assembly to produce individual, distinguishable finished products such as cars and furniture. Process manufacturing is geared toward transforming raw materials into large quantities of given final products, like foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals, via continuous or semi-continuous workflows. 

Each of these manufacturing methods has its own unique features and considerations. Manufacturing companies should consider which aligns best with their business objectives, product requirements, and operational capabilities to produce products most efficiently.

What is discrete manufacturing? 

Discrete manufacturing builds individual items or products separately, each being distinct from the next. This type of manufacturing process creates tangible goods out of individual parts. These complex products may be of relatively high value, such as vehicles, electronics, machinery, and furniture. Discrete manufacturing typically involves a set of defined steps.

The discrete manufacturing process comprises product design, engineering, materials procurement, assembly, testing, and packaging. This method often uses technologies like computer-aided design (CAD) and robotics to boost efficiency and productivity.

A unique characteristic of discrete manufacturing is its ability to enable customization and variability in the products it creates. This relatively flexible process allows manufacturers to tailor products to meet customer specifications or market priorities. 

What is process manufacturing? 

Process manufacturing takes raw materials or chemicals through chemical or physical transformations to produce homogeneous products in bulk via batch processing. This methodology is characterized by continuous or semi-continuous workflows that enable the consistent transformation of raw materials in the same way without ceasing, such as on an assembly line. The processes involved often include mixing, blending, distilling, and refining. 

Process manufacturing is best suited for food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and chemical production industries to create outputs like soda, medications, and cleaning solutions. That is because process manufacturing focuses on scalability, efficiency, and tight quality control, all of which are essential for continuously producing value-added materials in bulk.

Discrete manufacturing vs process manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing differ in the characteristics of their processes and the nature of the goods they produce. Discrete manufacturing produces individual items; each typically assembled separately and in distinct steps. Meanwhile, process manufacturing has bulk products created via a continuous workflow that transforms raw materials via several processes. 

One of the most notable differences between these two manufacturing types is how they create products — discrete manufacturing builds items step-by-step. In contrast, process manufacturing maintains an ongoing, uninterrupted production flow.

These methods also differ in the customization they enable, with discrete manufacturing allowing products to be built to customer specifications and process manufacturing precluding this option. Additionally, discrete manufacturing often employs advanced technology like CAD, while process manufacturing relies on specialized equipment such as mixers, reactors, and distillation columns.

Examples of discrete manufacturing

Many products we use daily, from bicycles to ovens, are created using the discrete manufacturing process. Here are three examples of products that are made in this way.


A classic example of discrete manufacturing is how vehicles such as cars and trucks are assembled. Each vehicle is made from a set of components, with each part incorporated in its own step in a particular sequence. Building a single car involves routing the product through numerous stages, from design to final inspection.


Discrete manufacturing is also used to create electronic items such as smartphones and laptops. Like vehicles, these complex products are each constructed individually of component parts via a specific process of steps. 


Furniture like sofas and chairs is also produced via discrete manufacturing. The process involves building each piece from a set of parts step-by-step.

Since each type of finished goods is created in stages that can be changed slightly, each can be customized per a customer’s wishes. Buyers can choose the specific features for their car, the amount of memory their laptop should have, or the particular fabric they want on their new sofa.

Examples of process manufacturing

Products we often use, such as medications and motor oil, are created using the process manufacturing approach. Here are three examples of products that are made in this way.

Snack foods

Process manufacturing employs various chemical and physical processes to turn raw materials into snacks, like boxes of cereal and packages of cupcakes. Creating such products involves mixing, blending, cooking, and packaging, completed continuously via an assembly line. The process focuses on ensuring consistent quality and meeting tight safety standards.


Process manufacturing is also used to produce medications, including through strict procedures for synthesizing pharmaceutical ingredients and formulating dosages in tablets, capsules, and injectables. Using processes such as chemical reaction, filtration, purification, and milling, pharmaceutical companies create drugs using a continuous process that enables high safety control.


The chemical industry transforms raw materials into various chemical products using process manufacturing. The process relies on mixing, distillation, filtration, refining, and other processes to create industrial chemicals, plastics, fertilizers, and other items. 

In all three examples, process manufacturing creates these products in bulk via a continuous workflow, which does not allow for customization or additional flexibility within product production. Snack foods, medications, and chemicals must meet the same description and safety standards batch after batch, so no part of the production process can be changed or adjusted. 

How QuickBooks Enterprise supports efficient manufacturing operations 

Manufacturers must be agile and data-oriented today, ready to shift gears in the face of an evolving economy, complex supply chains, and unpredictable market demands. Even those with sophisticated systems may need a specialized approach to manufacturing inventory management

QuickBooks Enterprise enables manufacturers to track each piece of inventory in real-time, ensuring smooth processes, whether using a discrete or process manufacturing approach.

The right tools for manufacturing success

Manufacturing companies are working to remain efficient, agile, and organized in a fast-changing business environment characterized by rapid technological advancement, evolving customer demands, and supply chain complexity. Whether using discrete manufacturing or process manufacturing, manufacturers must maintain insight into and control over their manufacturing inventory, cash flow, workflows, and metrics. 

Businesses can navigate the challenges of the modern manufacturing landscape by creating a right-sized, well-managed manufacturing process that is aided by the appropriate technology. QuickBooks Enterprise can give you the right tools for efficient, profitable inventory and manufacturing management.

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