Inventory Management Software: Process Manufacturing vs. Discrete Manufacturing

  • Traceability
  • Manufacturing

Key Takeaways:

  • Process and discrete manufacturers face increased pressure in today’s highly competitive, volatile marketplace. The COVID-19 pandemic added additional pressure and unpredictability.
  • Shop floor data collection offers the capability to gain visibility, predictability, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs.
  • Process manufacturers can leverage traceability technology to meet compliance regulations.
  • Discrete manufacturers use these solutions to better manage inventory and reduce costs.

Every day, manufacturing businesses create new products and improve existing ones. But not all manufacturing is the same. Process manufacturing mixes different elements to create products, such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, and food. While discrete manufacturing creates goods, like cell phones, wind turbines, and automobiles.

In either case, manufacturers nowadays face significant competitive pressure forcing them to streamline their supply chain, lower costs, expand product lines, and improve customer service. To address the challenges, they need a robust shop floor/inventory solution, one that delivers immediate traceability and real-time visibility during the manufacturing process.

Customers today demand more than ever: more pricing options, more means of delivery, and more access to supply chain data. Technology increasingly plays a key role in meeting those requests. Automated data collection ensures material stock levels are accurate. Inventory errors often impact revenue, since they can lead to problems in accurate, timely order fulfillment.

To better understand mobile technology’s role in manufacturing, let’s take a close at each subset, followed by a use case.

Process manufacturing and discrete manufacturing both involve the production of goods, however, the type of goods and the way they are produced vary:

  • Process manufacturing follows a sequential model and sometimes creates materials, such as steel, used in finished products.
  • Discrete manufacturing follows an asynchronous model and constructs a finished product, like a smartphone.

Why Use Traceability Tech in Process Manufacturing

Process manufacturing revolves around the flow of sequential steps, like cooking, where the end of one step immediately leads to the start of the next. Manufacturers collect ingredients and then create a predetermined volume of a material, such as plastic, food, and paper, within one facility. Robust traceability software is required to accurately oversee these inventory types.

According to BCC Research, the top five process manufacturing markets are:

  1. Oil and Gas
  2. Food
  3. Pharmaceutical and Life Science
  4. Plastics
  5. Metals

The steel manufacturing process remains one of the biggest process manufacturing industries in North America.

The process to create these materials is becoming more complex. Automated track and trace software can ensure accurate recording of material lifecycles. Suppliers constantly create new products and attempt to differentiate themselves. Tracking raw materials, middle-stage ingredients, and finished products is impossible without real time real-time insight. Many manufacturing raw materials need to be stored in special locations because they can be negatively impacted by a change in temperature or a delay. Mobile inventory software can ensure safe storage rules are always adhered to.

Use Case: Traceability Technology in Process Manufacturing

The way these materials are produced, and the compliance regulations constantly evolve. Being able to trace elements and finished products has become corporate gold for process manufacturers. So, businesses need to gather more supply chain data and make it easily accessible throughout the enterprise with process manufacturing software.

Let’s look at a real-world use case:

In business since 1965, Caito Foods operates four distribution centers that move fresh produce to stores in the Eastern, Midwest and Southeastern United States. The Food Safety Modernization Act and Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) required that Caito Foods identify each item’s country of origin so its grocers can display that information on their sales floor signage. To meet that regulation and gain full product and ingredient traceability, the food producer successfully deployed RFgen Mobile Foundations for Oracle’s JD Edwards with RFgen Warehouse Director. RFgen’s mobile barcoding and data collection solutions enhanced visibility for manufacturing raw materials of multiple types throughout their operation.

Why Use Mobile Barcoding in Discrete Manufacturing

The discrete manufacturing industry (or discrete processing) breaks the manufacturing process up into pieces, pulls them all together at the end, and creates autonomous items. Here, manufacturers employ a series of steps that are not dependent on another and asynchronous in nature. An Illinois plant creates a car brake pad in the morning and an Indiana facility manufactures a side mirror in the afternoon. Production rates vary, and each step can be started or stopped, depending on how well the operation proceeds. Mobile data collection technologies, like mobile barcoding, can provide the discrete manufacturing industry with control and visibility to reduce operating costs and enhance social distancing.

The top five markets for discrete manufacturing are, according to market research firm BCC Research:

  1. Automotive
  2. Electronics and Computers
  3. Consumer Goods
  4. Aerospace, Aviation, and Defense
  5. Machinery and Heavy Equipment

Read more about the Toyota manufacturing process and how Toyota improved its discrete manufacturing visibility here.

These manufacturers rely on multifaceted, sometimes multi-national, increasingly complex, rapidly moving supply chains. Coordinating all the components is challenging because change is constant and speed to market has become paramount to success. Bullwhip supply and demand that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the challenge. Barcode software can ensure all inventory data is accurate at any given time, giving shop floor operations the agility to quickly pivot or re-tool production. Otherwise, hours of downtime could heavily impact revenue.

Use Case: Improving Discrete Manufacturing Processes with AIDC

Traditionally, items were loosely tracked as they left one facility and traveled to their next destination. That is no longer tolerable. Current pressures require real-time, reliable, and accurate access to information. The ability to update your ERP manufacturing process with material movements as they occur is a must when responding to changes in demand or unexpected problems. Automatic identification and data capture (ADC/AIDC) in the form of mobile barcode software may be the answer.

Vision Engraving provides an illuminating example:

In business for more than 20 years, Vision Engraving & Routing Systems is the largest engraving machine manufacturer in North America. The company relied heavily on a paper-based production order process to monitor the building of approximately 250 machines on its production line. Employees spent a great deal of time manually entering and updating tracking information, which reduced the time they were actually producing products.

The manufacturer deployed RFgen Mobile Foundations for SAP Business One and replaced its paper and data entry with wireless barcode scanners to automate data collection.

The end results?

Vision Engraving reduced order processing time by 684 hours per year, eliminating hundreds of hours annually. Employees no longer needed to hand-deliver paperwork in the warehouse (or the 60,000+ sheets of paper required to do it). Savings amounted to $22,500 per year and the company achieved a full Return on Investment (ROI) in less than twelve months.

While manufacturers create a variety of assorted products, they share many of the same business drivers, including the growing need to improve traceability. The right shop floor/inventory solution automates more functions, lowers operating costs, enhances productivity, and improves product quality, ensuring competitiveness in today’s dynamic manufacturing market. With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, both discrete and process manufacturers need innovative manufacturing enablement solutions like mobile barcoding and data collection to bolster resiliency and thrive.