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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 of 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.

Production Line

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 set up of the production line and it requires a large volume of goods to be produced to justify the capital investment.

Continuous Flow

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.

Custom Manufacturing

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.

This kind of production method is usually adopted by small companies as its capable of reducing the initial capital outlay. Batch production makes it easier to control the quality and schedule of production as everything from designs to material requirements are standardized for specific product variations well before production begins.

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.

Which is best for you?

Depending on your products and budget you may not have the luxury of choice when it comes to your preferred manufacturing methods. While it may seem like a drawback, it can be advantageous to be forced to work with small production runs, or even job production methods, especially if you’re ordering less than 10,000 units per production run-depending on the product.

As you sell your products you’ll learn more about your customers expectations and needs in regard to the item you’re selling. This will allow you to refine your products quickly without committing to large production runs. Unfortunately many businesses skip this step and commit to producing a product that hasn’t been refined enough for mass production making it difficult to close initial sales and generate return customers down the road.

When you create a product that meets the needs of most of your customers it’s time to think about flow and mass production methods to begin cutting costs and to make sure your inventory levels remain healthy as more customers place orders.