In the world of manufacturing, there are a lot of systems to choose from, each with its ideal use case and set of advantages and drawbacks. Having the appropriate manufacturing system for your product can yield a variety of benefits, including the ability to maintain the high quality of your goods, being more efficient in your production processes and saving money across the board. The right system can also help you produce higher volumes, thereby meeting your production volume targets. According to the book Handbook of Design, Manufacturing, and Automation by Richard C. Dorf and Andrew Kusiak, there are four types of manufacturing systems: custom manufacturing, intermittent manufacturing, continuous manufacturing and flexible manufacturing.
Custom manufacturing is by far the oldest and most popular type of manufacturing system in existence. It also happens to be associated with both the highest-quality products and the lowest-volume efficiency.
In the custom manufacturing system, each item is produced by a single craftsperson, who works solely by hand or with the help of a machine. When machines are used, they tend to be highly specialized to their task and cannot produce more than one item at a time.
This system will tend to have the highest unit cost for the product manufactured. As a result, custom-manufactured products are of the highest quality but are also the most expensive products in the market.
The intermittent manufacturing system allows companies to make different types of goods using the same production line. Therefore, the manufacturing facility is designed to handle different product sizes and requirements. Generally, the goods are processed in lots to fulfill orders.
This system is commonly referred to as a “job shop” due to its popularity in countries with relatively cheap labor making products for multinationals based thousands of miles away. The goods made using this manufacturing method are produced in small quantities, so they may not be suitable for stock. Customization is typically done post-purchase.
This type of system is designed for production runs that happen intermittently, hence the name, or products that don’t require high volumes. It uses general purpose machines and requires highly skilled labor.
Continuous manufacturing systems are designed to enable the mass production of a single product. The product goes through an assembly line with different stations where parts are added or worked on a little further. This method first arose during the Industrial Revolution and is most closely associated with the Ford Company, which employed the system to produce Model Ts in the 1920s.
This type of production system is ideal when a company has very high volume targets since it reduces the unit cost of the product. It does, however, require a massive capital injection at startup due to the investment in equipment and labor required.
Flexible manufacturing is a modern manufacturing system that has become very popular. It involves a significant investment in machinery, although it reduces labor costs by implementing robots eschewing human labor altogether. These machines can easily be reconfigured to manufacture different products in different quantities, and the whole process is automatic.
This method is called flexible manufacturing due to the flexibility in the variety of high-volume goods it can produce. Due to the automated process, quality control is a lot easier, and unit costs are low.