Understanding the Differences Between Discrete Manufacturing and Process Manufacturing


After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Outline the differences between discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing

Discrete vs. Process Manufacturing

Depending on your industry, you might have different requirements to model and execute a production process. With SAP Digital Manufacturing, you can execute production processes from both the process manufacturing Industry and the discrete manufacturing industry.

The process manufacturing industry involves continuous or batch production methods for fluid, gas, or powdered products, while the discrete manufacturing industry involves the assembly of distinct items, such as cars, electronics, or furniture.


Before delving deeper into the differences between discrete and process manufacturing, let's first define some important terms:

Work Center

A work center, a term predominantly used in the discrete manufacturing industry, is a specific location or station within the manufacturing environment where a set of related tasks or operations are performed. This can range from a single machine, a group of machines, or even a whole production line, depending on the complexity and scale of the operations. In the discrete manufacturing context, each work center is typically specialized for a specific type of task.

For example, in a bicycle manufacturing plant, one work center might be dedicated to creating the frames, another to painting the bicycle frames, another to assembling the parts together, and so on. This allocation of specific tasks to dedicated work centers enables efficient workflow, precise scheduling, improved quality control, and effective resource utilization within the manufacturing process.


A resource, a term predominantly used in the process manufacturing industry, is analogous to a work center in the discrete manufacturing industry. It describes a specific location or station within the production process where a set of related tasks or operations are performed. In the context of process manufacturing, a resource could be a certain machine, a group of machines, or a particular area within the plant that performs a specific function or set of functions.

For example, in a chemical plant, one resource could be a reactor where raw materials undergo chemical transformation, another could be a distillation column for separating mixtures, and so on. Just like a work center, a resource is integral to production process planning, scheduling, and resource management, providing a means to structure, standardize, and optimize the flow of work in a process manufacturing environment.


A routing is a term used in the discrete manufacturing industry. It refers to the sequence of operations or steps that are needed to complete the production of a specific product. It defines the flow of materials and work through the production process, from start to finish. In the context of the discrete manufacturing industry, each step in the routing process represents a specific operation in the production cycle, such as machining, welding, assembling, painting, or inspection. At each of these stages, the product will undergo a specific transformation or process as it moves towards becoming a finished good. By establishing and following a routing sequence, companies can standardize and streamline their production activities, facilitating improved efficiency, quality control, and cost management.


A recipe is a term used in the process manufacturing industry, where production involves mixing, blending, or transforming raw materials into a finished product. It focuses on defining the detailed instructions and formulae for producing a specific product. In a recipe, the master data specialist first defines a set of general operations that must be executed to manufacture a product. Each operation is executed on a resource. However, each operation involves a set of detailed actions that must be executed on the shop floor. The sum of all these actions results in the operation.

For example, to manufacture bicycle paint, the recipe contains the operations ‘create a solvent mix’ and ‘add pigment to the mix’. To create the solvent mix, the phases ‘fill solvents into reaction vessel’, ‘stir 10 minutes at room temperature’, and ‘heat to 70 °C and stir for 5 minutes’ must be executed. Adding of the pigment consists of the phases ‘add pigment to solvent mix’ and ‘stir for 30 minutes’.

Bill of Material (BOM)

A Bill of Material (BOM) is a comprehensive list of parts, components, assemblies, and other materials required to produce a product. It is essentially a recipe or blueprint for production. A BOM includes the quantity of each item, specifications, and sometimes even the sequence of assembly. It is an essential tool for production planning, inventory management, cost estimation, and ensuring that all necessary materials are available for production.

For example, in a bicycle manufacturing process, a BOM might list items such as the frame, handlebars, wheels, gears, screws, and paint, along with the quantity required for each to produce a single bicycle.

Discrete Manufacturing

The following video explains what discrete manufacturing entails.

System Demonstration

Watch this demonstration of the end-to-end manufacturing process in SAP Digital Manufacturing. See how a bike is manufactured following the discrete industry approach, from creating a production order over component assembly and inspection, until receiving the manufactured bike on stock.

Process Manufacturing

The following video delves deeper into the concept of Process Manufacturing.

System Demonstration

Watch this demonstration in SAP Digital Manufacturing: Observe the end-to-end manufacturing process in SAP Digital Manufacturing as we manufacture paint using the process industry approach. Learn how to release a process order, record phase activities and yields, capture data from a device, and execute all production phases.

Log in to track your progress & complete quizzes