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Batch production is the means by which most items in the world are manufactured. It works by manufacturing and delivering products together in groups or batches. It is the manufacturing standard for production lines.
Raw materials and components undergo multiple steps as they are processed and assembled into a final product. The size and grouping of batches is decided by the manufacturer, and allows cycles to produce multiple iterations of an item simultaneously instead of one by one.
For example, in the pharmaceuticals industry, medication is produced in batches that undergo several processes depending on logistics and demand. Depending on the item being produced, the batch undergoes several steps such as processing, packaging, sterilizing, shipping, and inventory holding.
In this example of batch production, medication would be produced in batches of a hundred individual doses, and each batch would progressively go through processing, packaging, quality testing, etc. in one group. If a plant were not grouping items into batches, only one tablet would be produced at a time.
Sequential production processes with variable hold/wait times
Industry standard for most production
Could be “leaner” due to waste created
A “batch” is a fixed number of units that are sent through processing. The batch size is determined by the manufacturer, but it is generally understood that batches are approximately the same size and fairly large, in order to ensure many units are produced on time according to demand.
Each batch goes through separate sub-assembly or processing stages until the final stage, where the batch is then checked for quality control.
The image below represents some of the biggest differences between batch production and its opposite, continuous flow production.
[image courtesy of FDA US website]
As you can see in the above image, there is no one right answer to the question of which process is best for lean manufacturing, batch or continuous flow. Some production cycles benefit from continuous flow organization, while others may thrive off of working in batches.
Being the primary form of manufacturing across the globe, batch production has been well-tested and is the FDA industry standard. The biggest benefits of working in batches include:
Many manufacturers deal with mixed job orders, where they may be producing components of a larger product or an intermediary assembly or processing step before the final quality check.
In fact, some manufacturers specialize in certain sub-assemblies like packaging for distribution or creating and affixing a certain type of screw or veneer.
Batch production is by no means perfect, but it is definitely the most flexible overall for manufacturers who have access to certain sourced raw materials or specialty skills in niche areas.
To simplify this explanation, think about baking cookies. If you wanted to eat some delicious chocolate chip cookies, you’d break out a recipe and start combining ingredients.
It would be weird if, after all the mixing and preparatory work, you opened the oven and had… one cookie.
Cookies are usually made in batches, anywhere from 12-24 individual cookies. They are all placed on the same tray and cooked in the same oven, and ideally, cool off on the counter at the same time.
It would be a waste of time to only bake one small cookie at a time when you could make a dozen. After all, who just wants ONE cookie?
The risks of batch manufacturing are well-known, since it has been the primary form of large scale production for decades. Here are a few of the most prevalent risks:
The risks of batch production have less to do with safety and more to do with the increase of waste and defects in the production process.
For example, when certain pharmaceutical drugs are produced in batches, semi-processed or raw materials can be placed in inventory or shipped elsewhere for further processing. This means that disruptions in the overall production process can lead to degradation of the materials’ quality and effectiveness.
This is also true when it comes to scaling up or down production according to demand. Because batches are prepared for processing one at a time, if a factory were to suddenly respond to increased demand, manufacturers would have to purchase additional equipment in order to double the output. It’s not as simple as pushing batches through production in greater frequency.
There is a higher amount of waste in batch production processes than in others like continuous flow manufacturing, for example. Because the thorough quality checks occur after the batch has been processed, it is possible that the entire batch can be discarded if there is a quality problem.
Additionally, the human operators come into contact with the batch at several stages of the batch’s processing, meaning there is a greater possibility of human error or biological contamination.
Let’s revisit the above cookie example, where we agreed it was silly to bake one cookie at a time. This time, the circumstances are different.
Let’s say you were starting a small cookie business, and your hook is advertising fresh, right-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies every day from 9-5 for hungry customers.
In this case, it’s not smart to make a few dozen cookies at 9am and sell them over the course of the day, because they won’t be fresh by the time the later crowd orders them.
Additionally, what if you completed a massive batch, maybe four dozen, only to discover after baking that you had substituted baking soda for baking powder – an understandable but devastating mistake! Now the taste is ruined and you have to start all over again.
However, if you had prepped maybe half a dozen cookies every couple hours, you would be ensuring freshness as well as limiting potential waste in the case of a ruined batch.
But isn’t making 6 cookies at a time more frequently – rather than 60 cookies at once – just a form of batch production with smaller batches?
Technically, yes, and that’s where you’ve spotted the end of the metaphor! Technically speaking, you would be minimizing batch size in this scenario. In manufacturing, however, it’s often impossible to “just make smaller batches” due to the mechanical equipment requiring maximum loading capacity in order to meet order demands.
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