discrete manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing is an industry term for the manufacturing of finished products that are distinct items capable of being easily counted, touched or seen. Discrete manufacturing involves parts and systems like nuts and bolts, brackets, wires, assemblies and individual products.

Examples of products made from discrete manufacturing include automobiles, furniture, airplanes, toys, smartphones and defense systems. In theory, a discrete product can be broken down at the end of its lifecycle so its basic components can be recycled.

Discrete vs. process manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing contrasts with process manufacturing. In process manufacturing, the product is created by using a formula or recipe to refine raw ingredients and the final product cannot be broken down to its basic components.

Examples of goods produced by process manufacturing include pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, refined oil and paints.

Discrete manufacturers use a bill of materials (BOM) and production follows a route, such as an assembly line, whereas process manufacturing uses a recipe and the ingredients are blended or refined in batches.

Discrete Manufacturing vs. Process Manufacturing
Discrete Manufacturing vs. Process Manufacturing

Discrete manufacturing and ERP systems

ERP systems, then called manufacturing resource planning (MRP), were originally developed to manage discrete manufacturing processes. These ERP systems let companies control and get visibility into the manufacturing process, helping to eliminate waste and reducing the time required to produce the goods.

Typical functions in these systems include inventory or materials management, sales order management, supply chain management, financial management and CRM. The ERP systems are often tailored for the specific discrete manufacturing needs in various industries, such as automotive, aerospace, defense, industrial equipment and electronics. The systems are then typically customized to meet a manufacturer's specific needs.

Discrete manufacturing ERP vendors

ERP systems for discrete manufacturing are available from a number of enterprise software vendors, including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Epicor, Infor, Sage, IQMS, IFS, NetSuite, Plex, Syspro and more. 

Each vendor may sell a variety of systems that are targeted for enterprises of various sizes, such as large enterprises or SMBs. Although most ERP systems for discrete manufacturers originally ran on premises, today they also commonly run in cloud or hybrid implementations.

This was last updated in August 2017

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