A look at the different manufacturing industries and how each sector works.

Many of the products we purchase have gone through an extensive manufacturing process involving a number of steps in order to get to the consumer. Whether it’s the wrapping paper of a McDonald’s hamburger or your favorite pair of jeans, the products we choose all go through a manufacturing process. Each product requires such an intricate process that sectors have been formed for each. Here is a look at different types of manufacturing industries and the roles they play in developing products.

Clothing and Textile

Everything in the clothing and textile manufacturing industry starts off as a fiber in a textile mill where it will be developed into either yarn, fabric, home furnishing, or apparel. The fibers are arranged in a series of ways to achieve the desired appearance, texture, strength, and durability. The process of achieving this depends on the type of material the fibre is made of.

The material used can be natural fibers—sourced from animals, minerals, or plants—or synthetic fibers—which incorporates the use of chemicals. Once the fabric is spun into yarn, there are endless ways with which it can be turned to fabric. However, the most common ways are either through the production of non-woven material, weaving, or knitting. The entire process requires the continued use of chemicals to help the yarn endure. From there the material goes through pretreatment, dyeing and printing, and lastly is manufactured into the intended final product.

The entire process calls for professionals trained at handling the machinery, designers, and engineers and has become a global industry that is valued at over $310 billion annually. While the U.K. may have been the originator of this industry, it has made its way across the world and China, Hong Kong, and Japan are now the leading producers of textile due to their access to cheap labor. Because of its global success, the market for clothing and textile manufacturing is valued at over $400 billion and ranks third in global export value.

Paper and Wood

The paper and wood manufacturing industry is responsible for the production of materials such as:

  • cardboard
  • packaging paper
  • lumbers
  • veneers
  • wood containers
  • plywood
  • wood flooring
  • prefabricated wood buildings
  • manufactured homes/ mobile homes

The process of manufacturing paper involves producing pulp for papermaking from virgin fiber either mechanically or chemically. Another way to achieve this is through the repulping of paper for recycling—recycled paper actually accounts for around 50 percent of fibers used. The entire paper production process comprises of two steps:

  1. converting material into pulp
  2. converting the pulp into paper

In 2014, the global production of paper and cardboard was approximately 407 million metric tons, half of which was credited to packaging paper and a third of which was credited to graphic paper. It is not hard then to believe that the paper industry earned around $96.1 billion U.S. dollars in annual revenue in 2015. Because paper is classified as a renewable resource, the process of recovering it is crucial for the paper manufacturing industry—subsequently it holds one of the highest global recycling rates.

The manufacturing of wood includes planning, laminating, sawing, shaping, and assembling. Apart from the general purpose of wood preservation establishment and sawmills, this particular industry has sub-sectors that base their work depending on the finished product the wood will end up as. Because the production of wood involves a series of vertically connected processes it is oftentimes grouped together with the production of paper. In 2014, the revenue in the U.S. for the wood manufacturing industry was $7 billion.

Leather

The manufacturing of leather is based on the use of skin from animals like

  • lizards
  • eels
  • kangaroos
  • ostriches
  • calves
  • goats
  • cows
  • horses

The process of making this material into leather comprises of three general steps: preparation, tanning, and finishing. Sometimes additional step is added at the end, the coating process to protect the quality of the finished product. Each main step entails smaller, intricate processes and each one requires meticulous care. Leather manufacturing facilities are referred to as tanneries and an estimated 9,000 of them exist worldwide.

Transportation

The transportation equipment manufacturing industry is among one of the most successful manufacturing industries as it generated about $4 trillion in global annual revenues in 2014—of which $750 billion were credited to the U.S.

This industry is responsible for the production of

  • aerospace and aircraft equipment
  • motor vehicles and auto parts
  • railroad equipment
  • motorcycles and bicycles
  • ships

This industry has evolved and therefore requires its workers to learn new skills to better manage the emerging technology being increasingly adapted. Machining, bending, welding, forming, and assembling metal or plastic parts into components and finished products are all part of the manufacturing process in this sector. Each sub sector has its own set of processes needed to achieve its finished product. For example, the manufacturing of aircrafts involves assembly, development and production of prototypes, and the modification and maintenance of aircraft systems. The U.S. transportation manufacturing industry is comprised of around 10,000 companies which, as of 2018, has a combined annual revenue of around $960 billion.

Food and Beverage

The food manufacturing industry is one of the most essential with contributors from across the globe. In the U.S. alone, this industry provided 1.5 million jobs as of 2017. This industry is responsible for every step of the food production process, starting with the raising and slaughter of livestock for meat and the handling of agricultural products, and ending with the packaging of the final product.

More specifically, food manufacturing involves the use of agrichemicals, farm machinery, supplies, seed, and agricultural construction. The beverage manufacturing industry is often tied to food manufacturers because they incorporate similar tasks, in fact, there are over 30,000 plants in the U.S. that are used for food and beverage manufacturing. The process of producing beverages also involves the development of agricultural materials into products meant for consumption through the use of energy, machinery, labor, and scientific knowledge.

The food and beverage manufacturing industry is worth $126 billion as of 2017 and is slated to increase their value by 30 percent within the next decade.

Metal

The metal manufacturing industry is responsible for developing raw materials into parts, structures, and machines. The materials used for this process include

  • fittings
  • formed and expanded metal
  • flat metal
  • sectional metal
  • welding wire
  • plate metal

These materials are subjected to cutting, bending, and assembling to achieve their final product. Like many other sectors, the metal manufacturing industry has evolved according to the adoption of more technology in their workforce. This industry was found to be the third largest U.S. manufacturing industry with shipments from the sector totaling in at $345.1 billion in 2013.

Petroleum, Chemicals, and Plastics

The chemical manufacturing industry is one that is connected with many other manufacturing sectors as it develops chemicals used in the production of other materials. Additionally, petroleum manufacturing is included in this sector. In the U.S., around 30 percent of the top 50 industrial firms are petroleum or chemical plants.

As for the plastic manufacturing industry, this is one of the most successful industries in the U.S. especially with the rise of 3D printing. This sector is credited for high job production in that nearly 900,000 workers in the U.S. are working in this field. Plastic manufacturing processes include

  • blow molding
  • compression molding
  • casting
  • fabrication
  • extrusion
  • injection molding
  • rotational molding
  • thermo-molding
  • foaming

The finished products range from food packaging for retailers and restaurants, housewares, and toys. In 2016, global production of plastic was around 335 million metric tons with China holding the rank one of the largest producers of plastics.