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.