When a manufacturing company begins production of a new material, it has a choice as to the manufacturing process it uses. The type of process depends on the facility, the staff, and the information systems available. Each process has its advantages and some are best at certain tasks, for example, large batches of finished goods, or small numbers of custom items. When the decision is being considered about which manufacturing process to use, there are a number of questions that should be asked; what are the volumes to be produced, what are the requirements to make the product, and does the company manufacture a similar product?
There are a number of basic manufacturing processes that they can select from; production line, continuous flow, custom manufacturing, and fixed position manufacturing.
A production line is the traditional method which people associate with manufacturing. The production line is arranged so that the product is moved sequentially along the line and stops at work centers along the line where an operation is performed. The item may move along some kind of conveyor, or be moved manually by staff or forklift. For example, operations along the production line could include assembly, painting, drying, testing, and packaging. If needed, some parts can be removed from the production line and stored as semi-finished goods.
The production line manufacturing process is very suited to high volume manufacturing of a single product or product group. For example, a production line may be used to manufacture a range of vacuum cleaners, where the only difference between the models is the color of the plastic assembly and the attachments that are included in the final product.
There are disadvantages to using the production line manufacturing process. The fact that the production line manufactures a single product or similar products limits its ability to manufacture anything else. For example, if the company manufacturing vacuums wanted to make kitchen mops, it would not be able to use the same production line. The second issue with production lines is that there is a high cost involved in the initial setup of the production line and it requires a large volume of goods to be produced to justify the capital investment.
The continuous flow manufacturing process is similar to the production line, but the products that are manufactured cannot be removed from the production line and stored, but require to have been through each process. For example, materials that are suited to continuous flow include chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics. The continuous flow process is more inflexible than a production line as it does not allow for other materials to be produced on the line without significant changes and the cost involved.
If a company manufactures a wide range of products that can be modified based on the customers' requirements, then a custom manufacturing process is a good fit. The custom manufacturing facility has a number of skilled employees and a range of equipment that can be used to manufacture and modify a wide range of items. The facility should be set up with a number of dedicated areas such as a welding area, lathe shop, paint spray area, and packaging area. The custom manufacturing facility is not designed for high volume products but is ideal for customized products.
Fixed Position Manufacturing
Fixed position manufacturing is different from other manufacturing processes as it involves the finished product not moving from its fixed position from the beginning to the end of the process. This is the method used in large-scale manufacturing such as the manufacture of an aircraft or ship but is also used for products that are being constructed in place for the customer, such as a conveyor system.