Thanks to Josh Chalifour at Technology Evaluation Centers for this post:

A quick definition from APICS (The Association for Operations Management) describes discrete manufacturing as “the production of distinct items such as automobiles, appliances, or computers,” whereas process manufacturing covers “production that adds value by mixing, separating, forming, and/or performing chemical reactions. It may be done in either batch or continuous mode.” Now let’s look at a few examples.

Think about what your company manufactures. Does it require mixing chemicals? If so, you may need an ERP system that does things like calculate ingredient quantities. If your industry produces the type of product that doesn’t lend itself to being disassembled into its individual components, it’s likely you need to consider a process ERP system. On the other hand, if your company assembles products from many component parts, you’ll require discrete manufacturing functionality.

You Cannot Put the Juice Back into the Orange

Joe Strub from TEC explains the difference with this example:

Once you make a can of soda, you cannot return it back to its basic components such as carbonated water, citric acid, potassium benzoate, aspartame, and other ingredients. You cannot put the juice back into the orange. A car or computer, on the other hand, can be disassembled and the parts, to a large extent, can be returned to stock. other hand, can be disassembled and the parts, to a large extent, can be returned to stock. other hand, can be disassembled and the parts, to a large extent, can be returned to stock.

In addition, process manufacturing is scalable. If a formula calls for 1,000 pounds of cake flour, but you only have 500 pounds, you can still bake cakes—just not as many. Conversely, in discrete manufacturing, one missing part means waiting for it before the finished assembly unit can start rolling off the production line.

Below are some examples of functionality included in Discrete and Process Manufacturing.

Discrete Manufacturing

Process Manufacturing

Product Costing

Formulas/Recipes

Shop Floor Control

Process Model (Formulas and Routings)

Field Service and Repairs

Process Batch Control and Reporting

Production Planning

Conformance Reporting

Project Management

Process Manufacturing Costing

Product Data Management (PDM)

Material Management

Product/Item Configurator

Product Costing

Shop Floor Control

Production Planning

If you’re talking about requirements involving bills of material (BOMs) that list the component parts for assembly, you’d find those covered through the discrete manufacturing categories. But if you’re talking about functionality for formulas, recipes, or ingredients, those would tend toward the process manufacturing categories.