A guide to Continuous Manufacturing
by Duncan Geddes
As an industry leader in professional foam conversion, we are always keen to share our knowledge about the techniques and processes that help to keep foam manufacturing and conversion evolving.
Today, we are looking at one of the most fundamental elements of our process – continuous manufacturing. This method is commonly used for the production of polyurethane foam (PU) in sheet form.
Our experienced In-house engineering teams can use state-of-the-art laser and die cutting techniques to transform uncut PU foam sheets into whatever you require, but how are these foam sheets produced, and why is this manufacturing method so popular across other industries including automotive and pharmaceutical?
What is continuous manufacturing?
As the name suggests, continuous manufacturing is a process which allows the production of materials to take place without interruption. The main idea behind this technique is to create standard products in large volumes, and this means that the materials used are being perpetually processed.
This type of process is used by a number of industries, including power, water treatment and pharmaceutical – where it is seeing increasing popularity as a way to increase efficiency and reduce costs. In the foam industry, it provides us with slabstock foam of a consistently high standard, ready for conversion.
A major difference between continuous manufacturing and process manufacturing is that the stages of production are conducted in one single location, rather than having different stages being completed in different locations, or even with different companies. While the materials may undergo multiple treatments, or be split to produce different products on their journey, they will follow an established and unbroken process in this single location.
How it works
At Technical Foam Services, we work with a wide range of foam types and configurations. For this example, we will explain the continuous manufacturing process for Polyurethane foam.
Polyurethane foam (PU) is the result of the reaction between di‐isocyanates and polyols, which foam when combined. By adding additional chemicals or materials to this combination, it is possible to vary the final PU’s properties for use in a range of applications.
In a continuous manufacturing process, the PU ingredients are mixed on a conveyor, rising quickly into foam. The resulting long blocks can measure between 30m and 60m.
Once it has solidified, the blocks are cut into what are known as short blocks, which are typically in more manageable sizes e.g. 2m. This is known as slabstock production and is how the materials are supplied to us, ready for conversion.
The reason that this method is called continuous manufacturing is that the entire process, from raw materials to final product, is a single production process on a single machine which can continue for as long as there is a supply of raw materials.
Benefits of continuous manufacturing
While the development of a continuous manufacturing process for your products will depend on the size of your business and demand for your products, there are a number of advantages to adopting this process.
A clear benefit to continuous manufacturing is the efficiency of the process when conducted correctly. This could see quicker production times, minimised waste and reduced costs.
Other benefits include:
- High levels of accuracy
- Simplifying inventory management
- Increased return on investment.
Disadvantages of continuous manufacturing
While there are many benefits to continuous manufacturing, adopting this process should only be done after careful consideration, as there are potentially pitfalls too.
- Risks associated with demand could lead to excess stock at certain points throughout the year.
- A lack of flexibility, both for customisation options and for making improvements to the manufacturing process.
- If shutdowns are required for maintenance or upgrades, the resulting downtime could be significant.
- The cost of implementing specialist equipment.
What is the difference between batch production and continuous manufacturing?
Different products will have varying requirements, meaning that continuous manufacturing is not always the best match. In these cases, many companies choose batch production.
This method operates on only manufacturing a specific number of products, with machines being reset for the next production once the target amount has been created.
The batch production process will often see products pass through a number of steps, each adding cost to the production process and increasing the overall duration of the manufacturing process.
Generally, batch production is a preferred method for smaller companies or those requiring customisations – but for those who require large quantities of a particular item, continuous manufacturing remains the most effective method of production.
Continuous manufacturing allows for consistently high quality, giving us the best materials possible for our team to create products in a broad range of categories – but for Technical Foam Services, the production of foam is just the start of our conversion process.
Contact us to find out more about what we can do for your business.