There are many approaches that can be taken by manufacturers when it comes to enhancing production processes. One such method is called batch production.
But what exactly is batch production, what are the benefits (and drawbacks) of using it, and how does it differ from other strategies? We’ve answered these questions, and explained how software can make this method even more powerful.
What is batch production?
Batch production is a method whereby a group of identical products are produced simultaneously (rather than one at a time). It is up to the manufacturer to decide how big the batch will be, and how often these batches will be made.
Each batch goes through the separate stages of the manufacturing process together. Meaning that another batch can’t begin a stage, if the previous one is still within that part of the cycle.
Each batch can be different, as manufacturers can decide to change the specifications from one group of products to the next. Perhaps it is necessary to change the colour or size of that particular group (depending on the preferences specified in a particular order).
Quality checks can be carried out after each step of the production cycle. And machinery can be tested between batches to ensure there are no performance problems. This kind of flexibility isn’t possible when using some other approaches.
It’s important to look into these opposing methods, to see which best suits the needs of your business. But it’s fair to say that batch production is well fitted for small to medium-sized manufacturers, for reasons we’ll come on to.
What are the main features of batch production?
- Can be suitable for growing SMEs
- A flexible method of production
- Each batch goes through all stages of production together
- Quality control can be carried out between batches
- Good for maintaining sensible levels of inventory
- Can be lots of downtime between batches
What are the advantages and disadvantages of batch production?
- Save money
This method is useful for smaller companies, as money can be saved thanks to lower running costs. Machinery isn’t operational at all times, only when a batch is being produced.
It’s cheaper to purchase materials in bulk too, rather than on a smaller basis. If you’re preparing for a large batch, suppliers are likely to give you a better deal for a big order.
It also takes some of the strain off your equipment and workforce, if products are being created in big groups, as this is more efficient (and faster) than producing goods individually.
- Reduce waste
There is slightly more room for error compared to larger-scale techniques. If a manufacturer needs to create a large quantity of a product, but they break this down into smaller batches, there will be less waste, if, for example, one of these batches were to possess defective items.
Similarly, if a product isn’t selling well, manufacturers aren’t committed to producing an overly large amount. They can make changes before it’s too late. Inventory can be kept at sensible levels, which also keeps storage costs down.
- Greater flexibility
If there was to be a new trend in the industry, or if a wave of seasonal demand were to come into effect, batch production makes it possible to tweak items from one production cycle to the next (rather than having an unchanged item for a long period of time).
- Lost time
It could be argued that batch production causes a lot of downtime, between batches, when machinery is not in use.
Equipment must be turned off at the end of one cycle, and sometimes it takes a while for it to be reconfigured (in preparation for the next batch).
- Lack of specialisation
It’s not possible to create a completely unique item, if an individual customer were to make a specific demand.
- More expensive than smaller production methods
There will be larger storage costs associated with batch production (compared to a smaller operation). Plus, an entire batch could be lost if an error were to occur.
However, batch production strikes a good balance between smaller and larger methods, arguably achieving the best of both worlds (and is ideal for a manufacturing SME looking to scale up).
Batch production vs continuous production vs assembly line production
Continuous production, unlike batch production, is a flow production strategy. This means that the process never stops, and there are no breaks between the different steps of the product creation.
The only time the production would be interrupted would be for very rare occasions of maintenance (or if machinery needed replacing). An example of an organisation likely to use continuous production is a chemical plant, or a paper manufacturer.
One of the main advantages of this strategy is the high amount of output generated in a short amount of time. There’s also huge consistency with the items made, which is good if customers expect every product to be produced to the same level.
A disadvantage of this technique is that it requires a large amount of initial investment to get all of the equipment set up. Continuous production can additionally generate a high volume of waste. If product demand were to suddenly drop, there would be far too much inventory for the business to handle.
Assembly line production
Assembly line production is one of the most popular methods for mass producing goods. Separate parts of the product are added at each individual stage of production, thus assembling the product until it is complete.
These different parts are added by an employee or a machine, and the whole process happens in a sequential fashion. The most obvious example of a business that would implement this is a carmaker.
An advantage of assembly line production is that it is arguably cheaper than some other methods. This is because the production cycle is broken down into simpler steps, meaning a lower-paid employee (or less sophisticated machine) can complete the individual steps.
Just like continuous production, this strategy makes it possible to create large volumes of inventory, which can subsequently increase income if the appropriate demand exists. But again, similar to continuous production, there’s a lot of scope to generate waste.
A defect might not be spotted until a huge amount of output has been produced, which would cost a manufacturer a lot of money. A drop in demand would also lead to a whole raft of unsold items.
How can software help with batch production?
Manufacturing Software helps to counteract many of the perceived drawbacks that come with batch production, by making it possible to become drastically more efficient.
This type of software solution unifies all of your business functions, ensuring data is accurate, consistent, and up to date. This data makes it possible to have full visibility around inventory, sales and finance.
This enables you to make predictions about demand, and therefore the size of batches you need to produce.
All of this added insight around demand, financial health and stock makes it possible to improve performance (which counteracts the time lost between product batches).
With full synchronicity between operations, many processes surrounding the supply chain can be automated. Manufacturing Software has production planning functionality, meaning work can be scheduled, and employees can constantly monitor any ongoing activity.
Staff can track individual products through the cycle with serial numbering and batch traceability. The bill of materials feature makes it possible to create complex product configurations.
By bringing the office floor and factory floor together, Manufacturing Software helps smaller businesses to grow. This growth may provide the resources and confidence needed to try something like batch production, which itself will only contribute to further expansion.
If you’re interested in implementing the batch production method, and want to streamline your operations in the Cloud, take a look at our Manufacturing software solutions market page.