Follow the cost-effective formula with process manufacturing

The safety and efficiency of automated process manufacturing make it the winning solution for producing bulk goods from a formula.

Oil refinery at twilight with city skyline in background.
Oil refineries use process manufacturing to break down crude oil into gasoline and other petroleum products.

What is process manufacturing?

Process manufacturing describes the manufacturing of products—usually in bulk quantities—based on a set formula or recipe. Each step in the process must be completed before the next step, and in contrast to discrete manufacturing, finished products from process manufacturing cannot be disassembled into their component parts. Process manufacturing software can help organize operations, as well as find data insights and efficiencies in the process.

Large rolls of paper on machinery in a paper mill.
Paper mills use continuous process manufacturing to produce one product non-stop without variation.

Types of process manufacturing

Process manufacturing can be broken down into two types: continuous and batch.

Continuous process manufacturing produces the same product (or group of products) non-stop, or as close to non-stop as needed, with no variations or customization. Examples of continuous process manufacturing include gasoline, paper, plastic, pharmaceuticals, and other products for which there is steady, high demand. Continuous process manufacturing is very efficient after a considerable initial investment because it runs around the clock, leans heavily on automation, and requires little setup or change over time. Data technology like predictive maintenance also helps. In continuous process manufacturing, products move from one processing step to the next with no breaks. While production generally doesn’t stop, the rate of production can adjust to match output with demand.

In contrast, batch process manufacturing is dependent on customer demand, which is much more variable than for continuous processing products. Batch process manufacturing produces limited runs of products, after which equipment is usually cleaned, tested, and prepped for the next batch as it occurs. Take baking for example. A bakery produces daily batches of baked goods overnight to satisfy demand when it is the highest in the morning. Paint can be another example of batch process manufacturing, where a batch is made of one color and then the process repeats for other colors. Batch processing is generally lower volume than continuous processing but can accommodate more variations and customization.

Discrete vs. process manufacturing

Whereas process manufacturing is based on a recipe or formula and makes products that can’t be disassembled, discrete manufacturing refers to the kind of parts and assembly manufacturing that includes a bill of materials (BOM). With discrete manufacturing, parts are built and assembled into products like cars, smartphones, furniture, and so on. The final products of discrete manufacturing can be disassembled down to their discrete components to be reused, whereas process manufacturing products cannot.


Another way to distinguish discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing is to think of discrete manufacturing as reliant on fabrication and constituent parts that can be numbered, while process manufacturing relies on blending ingredients or parts measured by volume or weight. Process manufacturing induces a physical or chemical change to its ingredients through heat, pressure, chemical reactions, curing, grinding, mixing, and the like—discrete manufacturing does not. Instead, discrete manufacturing assembles products through adhering, attaching, or affixing joints, screws, rivets, and the like.  


Most process manufacturers also have to package their products; packaging falls into the realm of discrete manufacturing. That means process manufacturers cross into the discrete manufacturing world, while discrete manufacturers usually do not have to manage process manufacturing.


Man in white jacket and hairnet holding tablet while inspecting food in a food processing plant.
Quality control is a crucial part of process manufacturing in the food and beverage industry.

Industries that use process manufacturing

Process manufacturing touches many large industries such as oil/gas/petrochemicals, cosmetics and self-care, plastics, and paints.

The food and beverage industry uses process manufacturing for a diverse array of processed meats, dairy products, condiments, desserts, breads, sauces, soda, juice, beer, and much more. In this field, quality control is very important for health and safety, so precision is a priority.

The pharmaceutical industry is also accountable for the health aspects of quality control and relies on closely monitored process manufacturing to make medications. Common processes include coating, pressing, filling, and different types of breaking down and blending. Whether making prescription or over-the-counter medicine, pharmaceutical companies face many government regulations, so stringent standards are important.

Benefits of process manufacturing

Process manufacturing maximizes automation to keep production as simple as possible while maintaining high quality. It benefits many high-volume industries.

Cheaper in bulk

Process manufacturing is cost-effective for bulk production, streamlining labor costs and using the efficiencies of automation to make profit margins favorable.


Resource management

Collecting and analyzing data along the automated lines of process manufacturing make it easier to efficiently allocate resources and costs where they’re needed.


Transparent operation

In process manufacturing, production goals and how to meet them are very transparent, allowing communication between supervisors and staff to be clear. Supervisors can evaluate performance and staff can give helpful production feedback based on evident targets and data.


MES software efficiencies

Adding manufacturing execution systems (MES) software like Autodesk Prodsmart to a process manufacturing operation can help shore up efficiencies to materials logistics, optimize speed, stay ahead of maintenance needs, evaluate performance, and make informed decisions.


Autodesk software for process manufacturing

Professional-grade product design and engineering tools for 3D mechanical design, simulation, visualization, and documentation.

Product data management software—available as Vault Basic, Vault Professional, Vault Office

Get Inventor + AutoCAD + Autodesk Fusion + more—Professional-grade tools for product development and manufacturing planning.

Customers using process manufacturing

Pipes in an open field venting burning gas.

M2X Energy

Cooking with gas

Startup M2X Energy is developing an inexpensive process to convert excess methane into a multipurpose chemical feedstock in mobile refineries designed with Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Vault.


Packaging and utensils made from fiber-based material.


A pox on plastic

Swedish company PulPac has invented a dry molded fiber process that produces robust and cost-effective fiber-based packaging and utensils to replace single-use plastic. It uses Autodesk Product Design & Manufacturing (PDMC) Collection for product design and manufacturing processes.


Image courtesy of PulPac

Closeup of green algae.

Checkerspot and WNDR Alpine

It’s all downhill for algae

Biotech firm Checkerspot makes a biobased material derived from microalgae oil. Combining process manufacturing with discrete manufacturing, the firm also owns WNDR Alpine, which makes skis out of the material to replace petroleum-based polyurethanes.


Process manufacturing resources

Through videos, webinars, and articles, find everything you need to know about MES software, the industries that use it, and how it can benefit your operation.

Learn more about why manufacturers need production planning and how Autodesk Prodsmart features like capacity metrics and data utilization can help.


Read this quick summary that clearly explains the difference between MES software and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.


Find out how Autodesk Prodsmart’s simplicity, efficiency, intuitiveness, and other benefits make it a user-friendly MES software.

Follow these five steps—such as tracking production and setting up maintenance notifications in MES software—to get ahead of common manufacturing bottlenecks.


Practicing smart manufacturing through a digital factory that automates processes and connects data insights will help modern manufacturers stay competitive and deal with unpredictable circumstances.


Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is process manufacturing?

Process manufacturing produces goods in bulk through a set formula or recipe. The steps in each formula must be performed precisely and in a strict sequential order. Typically in process manufacturing, the materials in the formula undergo some kind of thermal or chemical conversion from processes that take a specific amount of heat, time, or pressure, such as baking, chemical reactions and catalysis, churning, curing, grinding, mixing, pasteurizing, and pressurizing. As a result, process manufacturing is permanent; the products of process manufacturing cannot be disassembled down to their constituent parts.

What is an example of process manufacturing?

An example of process manufacturing is gasoline, which is processed from crude oil and broken down by fractional distillation, and then the fractions are separated based on their boiling points. Refined oil and other petroleum products like Vaseline and plastics also come from process manufacturing.


There are many other examples of process manufacturing, such as processed food and beverages, cosmetics, personal care products like shampoo, pharmaceuticals, paints, and much more.

What is the difference between process manufacturing and discrete manufacturing?

The difference between process manufacturing and discrete manufacturing is assembling discrete parts versus blending ingredients. Process manufacturing is based on a recipe or formula and makes products using chemical and physical processes that can’t be broken down into their component parts. Think about soap, salsa, gas, or aspirin as examples.


On the other hand, discrete manufacturing assembles discrete parts from a bill of materials (BOM), putting together parts by attaching, affixing, nailing, riveting, and so on. Discrete manufacturing products could be disassembled for reusing certain parts. For example, consider a bicycle, TV, or a desk.