Process industries mainly employ manufacturing operations that convert highly variable raw materials into consistent quality finished goods. Process manufacturers require a high degree of automation, monitoring, and advanced simulation and control for the more challenging operations. Emphasis is on continuous or batch mixing, reaction and separation of materials to produce other materials of higher value. Many process manufacturers are becoming aware that they can benefit from investing in technologies to automate their often complex manufacturing processes.
Discrete manufacturers emphasize the assembly of high quality engineered components or sub-assemblies into more valuable final product configurations, or the physical manipulation of discrete entities. Materials are often moved manually in discrete manufacturing environments -- while such "high-touch" labor environments can benefit from technology, many (particularly smaller manufacturers) choose to implement lean manufacturing practices and not to implement manufacturing software systems at all. There are exceptions -- semiconductor, electronics and medical device makers -- which are heavily dependent on products and technologies that help automate and enforce product compliance in their manufacturing operations. To manage these different operational environments, process and discrete manufacturers rely upon very different business processes to manage their manufacturing operations, and there are marked differences in priorities. In both discrete and process industries, high-qualified industrial management  is a must-have
Discrete companies are less automated and are prioritizing basic visibility into manufacturing, specifically into key performance indicators, finances, and data from production assets. This ensures that they collect compliance data from manual processes, which is also an important concern for discrete manufacturers, although they clearly recognize the benefits of automating the collection of real-time series data -- such as reducing waste, increasing flexibility and decreasing lead times while still providing a consistent high quality product.
Process manufacturers have higher degrees of automation. They are moving beyond individual plant acquisition of time series data from the plant floor to the acquisition of data from multiple plant sources and multi-site performance analysis, facilitated by a centralized repository for multi-site data. This helps them to make informed decisions relating to remote plant operations.