In essence, a manufacturing process consists of all of the steps required to turn raw materials into usable products people want to buy. Manufacturing has been a major force behind America's growth, making up 12 percent of the economy and adding more than 530,000 jobs since 2010, according to Science Progress, an online journal published by the Center for American Progress. Knowing the basics of the manufacturing process is essential to better understanding how this sector will continue to shape the economy.
A Multi-Step Process
The process of manufacturing starts with research and development, which represent a whopping 70 percent of the American economy, according to Science Progress. Raw products are identified, then combined or modified into a potential product. The product goes through numerous renditions to make sure it meets the manufacturer's specifications and standards and the requirements of potential buyers and regulatory agencies. Once the product passes muster, an assembly line is created so the product can be produced in quantity to meet market demand. Finally, the products must be labeled, packaged, distributed and marketed as one of the final steps in manufacturing. For the manufacturer to make money from sales of the finished product, the cost of research, materials, equipment, labor and marketing is weighed heavily in setting prices.
Manufacturing is a labor-intensive process, requiring the services of many people. Inventors, researchers and developers define the product and create the specifications. For instance, in the cell phone industry, manufacturers are constantly researching and testing new materials to create even more lightweight, durable and flexible phones.
Manufacturing requires manual labor, including machinists who take care of the production equipment and unskilled laborers who pack, label and get the final pieces ready to ship. Even automated manufacturing processes require skilled people to operate the computers and robotics equipment to keep everything running smoothly. Marketing and sales staff are required to find buyers and create advertising messages. Quality assurance employees carefully test the final product to make sure it meets all specifications.
Abbott Nutrition, a company that makes nutritional products, starts its manufacturing process by gathering the raw materials and ingredients used in its products and testing them extensively to make sure they meet the company's standards. The process includes weighing the raw materials so the right amount goes into each product. It includes heat treatment and evaporation processes to turn the materials into the desired products. Additional quality assurance testing is done at each stage of production. Abbott then tests the final product before packaging and distribution.
Robotics and additive manufacturing, among other technological advances, continue to change the way companies complete their manufacturing processes. To help small to medium-sized companies keep on top of these changes, a multitude of resources are available from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a government program established in 1988. MEP's Manufacturing Innovation Blog says the organization offers programs and consulting services at 60 centers across the country. These services help manufacturers become more competitive, expand their markets, develop new products and use advancing technology to help grow their companies.