What is Manufacturing: Definition, Process, Types & Applications

Manufacturing is an integral part of modern society. It creates all kinds of products, ranging from essential everyday items to high-tech goods that meet customer demand. Manufacturing essentially allows designers and engineers to transform concepts and ideas into full-fledged products that are ready for the marketplace.

Thanks to ever-evolving technology, the manufacturing sector is constantly advancing. There are many manufacturing methods, each serving a unique purpose in the industry. Before discussing these different processes, we need to understand the term ‘manufacturing’ and its history. This article also explores the series of steps in the manufacturing process and more.

What is Manufacturing?

What is Manufacturing

Manufacturing is the process of transforming raw materials into finished goods using labor, tools, machinery, capital, and chemical processing. The manufacturing output can either be consumer goods or industrial goods. As the name suggests, consumer goods are bought by the average customer for their own needs. On the other hand, industrial goods are sold to manufacturers and used in the production of other goods. The goal of any manufacturing process is to not only create the finished product but to do so as efficiently as possible.

A good example of a manufactured product is a smartphone. The different components are typically produced by third parties using suitable raw materials. For instance, the battery consists of lithium ion, and the screen is made of specialized glass with an indium tin oxide coating. As for the circuit board, it consists of lead, copper, palladium, and even gold. Once all the components are ready, the manufacturer puts them together in an assembly line process. The phone is then tested rigorously for functionality.

History of Manufacturing

Manufacturing has been around for centuries. In the early days, skilled artisans and their assistants would craft various products. This early manufacturing system mainly relied on human labor severely limiting the volume of production.

The first Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain during the mid-18th century. This period was marked by significant innovation and technological advancements. Instead of handcrafting items, more and more people were adopting machine manufacturing. Steam engines, and later electricity, powered manufacturing operations. This allowed for a large-scale production line and created more manufacturing jobs.

The second industrial revolution ushered in a new method of production assembly line manufacturing. This introduced the concept of division of labor. Workers would perform a specific task along a motorized or automated line increasing production efficiency and profits. Assembly lines are the backbone of modern manufacturing and they have revolutionized how we produce goods.

There have been other significant advancements over the years. The advent of computer numerical control (CNC) technology automated manufacturing processes and further improved efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Now that we’re familiar with the core concepts of manufacturing, let’s discuss the various production methods

What Are Common Types of Manufacturing Processes for Metal and Plastic Parts?

The word manufacture is a blanket term that refers to the various production processes. The ideal manufacturing process will depend on factors such as production costs, the material, production volume, and part geometry.

Here are some of the most popular manufacturing processes.

CNC Machining:

CNC Machining Parts

CNC machining is the most widely used subtractive manufacturing technology today. It utilizes computer-generated instructions and machine tools to shape different materials into custom parts and designs. Given that the tool movement is computer-controlled, CNC machining technology offers remarkable precision There are different types of CNC machines, each performing a specific machining operation. They include CNC milling machines, lathes, routers, and grinders.

CNC machining is compatible with a wide range of materials and finds application in practically every industry. It is especially beneficial in sectors that require complex parts with a high degree of precision. Common uses of this manufacturing technique include;

  • Production of diagnostic machines, implants, and surgical tools in the medical industry

  • Manufacture of aircraft parts such as landing gear and engine components

  • Creating pipeline components and connectors for the oil and gas industry

  • Manufacture of various automotive parts

Injection Molding:

injection molding undercut design

Injection molding is a manufacturing process that is typically used for the mass production of identical goods. It utilizes heat, pressure, and a mold.

First, the mold is precision machined to match the specifications of the desired product. Next, molten material is injected into the mold under pressure. As it cools and solidifies, it takes the shape of the mold. Injection molding can be performed with a host of materials ranging from plastics and elastomers to metals and glass.

Injection molding has extensive applications in various manufacturing industries. They include;

  • Aerospace parts such as turbine housings and pump gears

  • Consumer goods such as cups, trays, and storage containers

  • Electronics including connectors and wire cables.

3D Printing:

3D printing parts

Compared to other manufacturing methods, 3D printing is a relatively new technology. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, constructs a physical object from a digital model. This process is computer-controlled and involves systematically adding layer after layer of material. Originally, 3D printing was primarily used for prototyping but now creates functional components. Common types of 3D printing include;

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

  • Stereolithography (SLA)

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

Sheet Metal Fabrication:

what is sheet metal fabrication

Sheet metal fabrication involves manipulating and transforming sheet metal into the desired shape. This is achieved through processes such as cutting, bending, punching, forming, and assembly. Sheet metal fabrication is a flexible manufacturing technique that works for both large-scale and small-scale production. Common applications include;

  • Electronics such as phone and laptop casings

  • Home appliances

  • Furniture

  • Manufacture of medical gadgets such as CT scanners and X-ray machines

Vacuum Casting:


Vacuum Casting is a manufacturing technique where you pour molten material into a mold and allow it to cool down and solidify. Vacuum casting, or polyurethane casting, involves injecting the liquid material into the mold under a vacuum. This process is ideal for high-precision products and parts with intricate designs. Vacuum casting is typically used for prototyping and small production runs.

Examples of vacuum casting applications include;

  • Manufacture of fuel systems and air ducts in the aerospace industry

  • Medical products such as implants and prosthetics

  • Consumer goods including toys and sporting equipment

Die Casting:

Die Casting

Die casting creates metal parts by injecting molten metal into a steel mold under high pressure. The process starts with creating a mold or die with a cavity shaped like the desired final product. Once the die is ready, molten metal is forced into the cavity, allowed to cool, and the metal part is ejected upon solidification. Die casting is suitable for repetitive manufacturing and it’s capable of achieving tight tolerances.

Thanks to its exceptional accuracy and fast production cycle times, this production process is used in various manufacturing industries;

  • Home appliances such as refrigerator frames and washing machine parts

  • Automotive products including transmission parts and engine components

  • Consumer electronics such as smartphone cases and laptop frames

Blow Molding:

Blow molding is a plastic-forming procedure that yields hollow plastic parts. The process involves heating a thermoplastic material and forming it into a tube or parison. Next, the operator secures the parison in a mold and blows air into it. The air pressure inflates the parison which takes the shape of the mold. As the material cools, it sets creating a hollow part. Blow molding is used in manufacturing a variety of products ranging from plastic bottles to large storage tanks.

There are three types of blow molding;

  • Injection blow molding

  • Extrusion blow molding

  • Injection stretch blow molding

Three Types of Manufacturing Production Process

There are three primary types of manufacturing production methods, each designed to accommodate specific business requirements. Let’s take a closer look at each process and the role it plays in the manufacturing industry.

Make-To-Stock (MTS)

Make to Stock (MTS) is a conventional production technique where manufacturers make commodities in advance and hold them as inventory or stock. The production is based on demand forecasts and/or historical demand. One of the key benefits of MTS is that it significantly reduces lead time. Also, this production method increases efficiency and it may lower manufacturing costs. However, its success is dependent on accurately predicting market demand. If the manufactured products are too few, the business will not meet demand and it loses out on revenue. On the other hand, excess commodities remain unsold and are a waste of resources.

Make-To-Order (MTO)

With this production approach, the manufacture of a product only begins after confirmed customer orders. Therefore the product specifications and volume are based on the customers’ requirements. Make to order (MTO) allows for increased customizability. It also eliminates the risk of unsold inventory. This manufacturing strategy is commonly used for labor-intensive products or high-value goods such as airplanes.

Make-To-Assemble (MTA)

The third type of manufacturing production method is make-to-assemble (MTA). This process is a hybrid of MTS and MTO. The manufacturer produces all the component parts required for a product. However, the product is only assembled after an order is received. MTA reduces the lead time since the manufacturer only needs to assemble the various components. It also offers cost-saving benefits since parts can be mass-produced.

Types of Manufacturing Approaches

Manufacturing can be further categorized into different approaches, each having distinct requirements, applications, and output. They include;

Continuous process manufacturing

As the name suggests, continuous process manufacturing produces finished goods in an uninterrupted production line. It, therefore, relies on automation and can run 24/7 with minimal human intervention. Continuous process manufacturing is ideal for mass production and is commonly used in applications such as oil refining and water treatment.

Batch process manufacturing

Batch process manufacturing involves creating a specific number of products within a set time frame. Production is halted once the batch is complete. The manufacturer may decide to resume production at a later date and make another batch of products if needed. Batch process manufacturing has proven to be efficient and cost-effective. It is often applied when producing automotive parts, electronics, and even pharmaceuticals.

Job shop manufacturing

Job shop manufacturing specializes in custom or semi-custom goods. It involves fulfilling a small to medium size order according to the customer’s specifications. This manufacturing system is therefore highly flexible.

Lean manufacturing

This is a method of manufacturing goods that prioritizes minimizing waste while maximizing productivity within a manufacturing system. In other words, the core idea of lean manufacturing is creating more value with less waste. Manufacturers will, therefore, need to adopt techniques and tools that optimize processes and lower costs and lead time.

Steps in the Manufacturing Process

Manufacturers tend to follow a similar framework when it comes to making a new product. The manufacturing process involves the following steps.

Step 1: Develop the Idea

As we’ve already mentioned, manufacturing transforms a concept into finished products that are ready for sale. Therefore, production begins with an idea that you can turn into a sold product. During this initial stage, you should have a general concept of what you want your product to be and its intended use.

Step 2: Perform Market Research

Market research is a make or break for any manufacturing business. This step helps you and your team to determine if a new product is worth the effort before investing your time and money. Market research seeks to answer questions such as;

  • Is there a need for our product?

  • Who is our target customer?

  • What is the size of the market for this product?

  • Who are our competitors?

  • How can our product stand out from the competition?

  • What is a good marketing strategy for the product?

Answering the crucial questions offers insights into what it would take to successfully launch your product.

Step 3: Design the Product

In this stage, design engineers generate a graphical design from the product concept. The initial design serves as a starting point and outlines the key features and specifications. It is then modified and optimized as needed to create a functional final design. The design process involves selecting the suitable materials and determining the dimensions and tolerances.

Step 4: Finalize and Prototype

After coming up with the final design, the next step is to transform it into a tangible, functional form through prototype development. A prototype should replicate the final product as closely as possible. For example, if you’re looking to manufacture a particular smartphone, the prototype can be a fully functional device that looks like the desired end product. This provides insights into the functionality and aesthetics of the product. Prototyping can be done through different production techniques such as 3D printing or CNC machining.

Step 5: Prototype Testing

Having a physical, working model allows engineers to test how the product would function in the real world. This process reveals any flaws and areas that require improvement. Prototype testing is typically conducted over multiple cycles. Engineers will rework the design until they have an optimal final version.

Step 6: Mass Production

After you’re satisfied with the prototype, the factory produces goods for the end customers. At this stage, you can expect manufacturing costs such as labor, machinery and equipment, storage, and raw material expenses. Quality control during manufacturing ensures that all products are up to standard and free from defects.

Step 7: Monitor the Process

There is still room to improve your processes even after the actual product manufacturing begins. For instance, reviewing the market demand can help you make an informed decision on the ideal production volume. Similarly, you may need to adjust your selling price after you calculate manufacturing overhead and the manufacturing cost for your product.


Gavin Leo is a technical writer at Aria with 8 years of experience in Engineering, He proficient in machining characteristics and surface finish process of various materials. and participated in the development of more than 100complex injection molding and CNC machining projects. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience.