Batch production is a way of manufacturing where the products are made in batches, which means that the goods go through production steps in groups. Batch production allows the manufacturing goods to be produced flexibly in large quantities while reducing the costs of manufacturing and improving quality.
Batch production is a manufacturing method where sets of identical goods go through production stages together, i.e. the production process creates a batch of finished goods at a time. In batch production, individual items do not pass to the next value-added phase until all of the products in the lot have made it through the previous one.
Even though batch production is most commonly associated with process manufacturing, specially with the production of goods such as food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., it can also be used in discrete manufacturing where products are built out of independent components that can later be disassembled.
Batch Production vs. Mass Production vs. Job Shop Manufacturing
As a manufacturing term, batch production belongs to a group of manufacturing processes that are characterized by their scale. The other two in the group are mass production (products made in very large quantities, usually in a continuous flow) and job shop manufacturing (products made in single copies or in small series, often as custom orders). Batch production could be regarded as the middle ground between those two.
Apart from the scale of production, aspects that vary between those three types of manufacturing processes are:
Types of products. Job shops can produce an array of different items customized to the specifications provided by the customer. Mass production creates a very limited mix of products. Batch production has a fairly limited range of products.
Tools used. Job shops use general purpose devices, equipment, and tools while mass production uses highly specialized ones. Batch production can use both.
Another difference is in production floor organization. In job shops, workplaces are grouped so that similar tasks are performed in the same area; in mass production, workstations are placed according to the course of the production process. In batch production, it is usually a mix of these approaches.
Then we have employee qualifications. Job shop employees are usually highly qualified and skilled to be able to perform a diverse range of operations within their area of expertise. Mass production employees generally have lower qualifications and are able to perform one specific operation. Batch production employees typically have an average qualification that allows them to perform a number of different operations.
Advantages of Batch Production
One of the advantages of batch production is unquestionably flexibility. Batch production allows companies to produce different equipment using the same machinery. It also allows for a certain degree of customization when a client requests a whole batch of the product with some minor changes in it. Batch production also allows companies to scale the size of their batches to respond to fluctuations in demand.
Product variants. Products can be made in different sizes, colors, and other customizable specifications in large quantities. This allows companies to cater to a wider customer base while retaining their throughput rate. Managing large quantities of variants manually can be a very resource-heavy endeavor, however, so many manufacturers look to implement an ERP/MRP system with an integrated product configurator software.
Greater quality control. As batch production is very much a step-by-step process, it is easy to check the quality of the product between steps and to make necessary changes. This would be impossible in mass production, where products move from one stage to another very quickly. Frequent inspections allow companies to detect errors early on and avoid spending time and effort on already faulty products.
Cheaper than building single products. Producing batches of the same product is estimated less than manufacturing single items thanks to bulk materials and labor being cheaper, the process being more efficient, and the general-purpose equipment often demanding less capital investment.
Disadvantages of Batch Production
High WIP inventory levels. If products are moved from one operation to another in batches, then with a batch of 100 units and a single unit being processed at a time, the other 99 units will be idle. Concurrently, a similar situation may occur at each workstation on the shop floor.
Also, when one step in the production process is finished, there may not be enough production capacity to move the goods to the next stage immediately. This means goods have to be transferred to WIP inventory mid-process, which increases storage space and inventory labor requirements.
Errors can be expensive. An undetected quality error can ruin a whole batch and end up wasting a lot of materials and time, especially when producing more expensive goods.
Idle time. Batch production can incur a considerable amount of downtime, be it due to machinery changeovers, quality checks between steps, or due to transferring goods to and from WIP inventory.
When to use Batch Production?
Batch production is best used in businesses where:
low volumes of a single product are produced at a time, e.g. baked goods, flat-pack furniture, and low-volume designer items;
demand dictates some degree of repetitiveness, i.e. when there are frequent repeat orders for a single product;
Demand is seasonal, e.g. large batches of one product are made for sale in the summertime, then the machinery is changed over to produce another type of product for the next season.
Batch Production examples
Batch production can be used to manufacture a wide array of different goods, including but not limited to:
1. Baked goods. A bakery typically produces batches of many different goods, e.g. white bread, whole wheat bread, rolls, pastries, etc. using the same machinery.
2. Apparel. Clothes manufacturers typically batch-produce variants of the same product, e.g. a t-shirt can have variations in color and size.
3. Flat pack furniture. One of the most popular furniture brands in the world, Ikea, uses batch production to manufacture their self-assembly furniture.
4. Soaps and shampoos. With these types of items, a large batch of the product is made before dividing it into appropriate volumes for consumers.
5. Pharmaceuticals. Similarly with other chemicals, pharmaceutical products are made in batches, then divided and packaged for consumption by their end-users.
6. Electronic components. PCB boards as well as various electronic components are usually made in batches due to the nature of the manufacturing process. E.g. many computer processors are made on a single silicone wafer at a time.
7. Electronics. When making electronic devices, even if these are mass-produced and one-piece flow is used at later assembly stages, batch production may be used at certain production steps, e.g. when placing electronic components on PCB boards.
The importance of Batch Tracking
Lot tracking or batch tracking essentially means keeping records of the movements and events related to the manufacture of specific batches.
When a batch of goods is received from the supplier, it is given a stock lot number that helps identify this lot later in the process. Similarly, when this lot is used in the production of a batch of finished goods, the new batch is assigned another lot number. Simply put, lot tracking can help keep tabs on which materials were used in which products, which suppliers provided the materials, and which customers have purchased the finished products.
This record-keeping is crucial for achieving the level of traceability required in today’s highly regulated markets. It allows companies to track supplier quality, trace back errors in the production process, keep tabs on expiry dates, organize product callbacks, etc.
While it is possible to do all this manually, it is a very time-consuming task. This is why most forward-looking companies choose to implement an ERP/MRP system with a built-in traceability software that automatically updates the data whenever a label is scanned, for example when parts of a stock lot are consumed on the production floor.
Batch production is a manufacturing method where sets of identical goods go through different production stages together, i.e. the production process creates one batch of finished goods at a time.
Even though batch production is most commonly associated with process manufacturing, i.e. with the production of goods such as food, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., it can also be used in discrete manufacturing.
Batch production differs from job shop manufacturing and mass production by its mix of products, tools used, production floor organization, employee qualifications, production process development, and production costs.
The advantages of batch production are: flexibility, the possibility to create product variants, greater quality control, and low costs.
The disadvantages of batch production are: high WIP inventory levels, possible high cost of errors, and increased idle time.
Batch production facilities should have a tracking system in place to ensure traceability and regulatory compliance.