What Is Heavy Industry?

Learn more about heavy industry: its definition, examples, and the common characteristics of heavy industrial manufacturing.
What Is Heavy Industry?

Sometimes, manufacturing companies use the term “heavy industries” in their name. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, HD Hyundai Heavy Industries, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are just a few examples.

What does “heavy industry” mean? Why are some industries classified as “heavy”, and others as “light”? In this guide, we will explain what heavy industry is and its common attributes. Moreover, we will also give some examples of industries that fall under this category.

“Heavy industry” is often compared with the “light industry”. Be sure to check our What Is Light Industry? article to understand both terms better.

Heavy Industry’s Definition

Heavy industry is a sector that manufactures products intended for business/industrial use (B2B). It’s the opposite of the light industry’s definition – a sector that produces goods meant for personal consumption.

Heavy industry products typically need an extensive amount of materials and/or components to make, require a sizable workforce, and can only be produced in a large production facility with heavy machinery. Goods such as steel coils, container trucks, and liquified natural gas are good examples of heavy industry products.

It’s synonymous with heavy manufacturing – an equally popular term. In this guide, we will use both terms interchangeably. Heavy industry manufacturers also have several common traits, such as:

Industry-Oriented Products

Heavy industry products are made for industrial/business uses – and not for personal consumption. This is what separates them from their light industry counterparts. Hence, they’re commonly more powerful than their light industry counterparts.

To illustrate: most household freezers can only cool up to -23 °C. Meanwhile, industrial Ultra-Low Temperature (ULT) freezers can go as low as -86°C. While regular freezers are only used to store food at home, ULT freezers can serve many other purposes. In the biomedical industry, for example, they’re used to preserve DNA samples and store sensitive drugs.

What Is Heavy Industry?

High-Capital Intensity

Heavy industry products must fulfill specific performance requirements to meet their clients’ needs. Thus, making these high-performing products is a capital-intensive process. To produce heavy industry products, it takes:

  • Plenty of materials and/or components.
  • A large workforce.
  • Heavy machinery – which often needs a large floor space.
  • Relatively more time than light industry products to complete.

Windmill turbines, train wagons, and industrial-scale batteries are good examples of heavy industry products.

Raw Material Processing

Some sectors in heavy manufacturing focus on processing raw materials into semi-finished goods. These goods will be used as materials in other industries.

The steel industry is a good example. It processes iron ores and combines them with other materials (sometimes with old scrap iron as well) to create steel. Steel is used in almost all industries, from consumer electronics to shipbuilding.

Besides steelmaking, here are examples of sectors that process raw materials:

  • Cement industry (uses limestone, alumina, and other minerals & metals to make cement).
  • Glassmaking (combines sand, dolomite, and other quarried materials to create glass).
  • Petrochemicals (processes crude oil to produce finished goods like petrol and diesel or semi-finished goods such as wax and asphalt).

Larger Environmental Impact

Due to its capital-intensive nature, heavy industry manufacturers have a large environmental impact. We can break down this into 3 elements:

Energy Use

Heavy industries often use heavy machines to perform their production activities. For example:

  • Sheet metal benders are used to create aircraft parts in the aviation industry.
  • Drydock gantry cranes are used to move heavy objects in the shipbuilding industry.
  • Welding machines are used to merge turbine parts in the heavy machinery industry.

Due to the powerful force that these machines must provide, they consume plenty of energy as well.

Additionally, heavy industry plants generally have a larger floor space than their light industry counterparts. As a result, their electricity, water, heating, and cooling consumption are also higher. Some heavy industry plants even have their own power generators to fulfill their energy needs.

What Is Heavy Industry?


Heavy industry is often associated with the term “dirty industry” – where production activities generate plenty of pollution. Some heavy industry sectors are indeed very polluting, such as

  • Air pollution produced by combustion needed to refine crude oil in the petrochemicals industry.
  • Water pollution due to heavy metal residues generated by the metal processing industry.
  • Noise pollution from heavy weapons testing (e.g., artillery, bombs, and rocket launchers) in the arms industry.

Of course, not all sectors are as polluting as the ones mentioned above. For example, the heavy machinery manufacturing, automotive, and modular construction industries are generally seen as the less-polluting heavy industry sectors.

Plant Location

Due to its immense environmental impact, heavy industry plants can only be built on a small selection of designated industrial zones. Often, they’re located far from urban centers. In addition, heavy industry plants in many jurisdictions must pass an environmental impact assessment and comply with various environmental regulations.

Furthermore, it’s advisable for plants that process plenty of raw materials to be built next to these material sources. For example, cement factories are often built next to a limestone quarry.

If no quarries are nearby, cement factories are also commonly built near a port. This proximity makes getting raw materials & sending finished products a much faster process.

High Initial Investment

Starting a heavy industry business requires a higher upfront investment than in the light industry. This is attributed to the heavy industry’s capital-intensive nature.

These costs include opening a large plant, purchasing heavy machinery, and hiring a relatively bigger workforce than its light industry counterpart. Not to mention the stricter environmental regulations that must be complied with.

Moreover, the heavy industry sector is riskier than the light industry. Many heavy industry products are niche-specific. Instead of producing products that always have a stable demand, like food and clothing, heavy industry makes industry-oriented products.

Unfortunately, many heavy industry sectors are very volatile. The aviation industry is a good example. The 9/11, Covid-19 pandemic and other occurrences have hit the industry hard. As a result, aircraft demand from airlines slumped, which hurt aircraft manufacturers. Hence, starting a heavy industry business is a highly risky venture.

What Is Heavy Industry?

Heavy Industry Examples

The heavy manufacturing sector consists of many different industries. Here are examples of the most well-known heavy manufacturing industries:

Heavy Machinery

The heavy machinery industry is a vast sector. It includes all manufacturers that create heavy machines for industrial purposes, such as:

  • Power-generating machines (e.g., gas turbines, solar panels, water boilers).
  • Heating/cooling systems (e.g., furnaces, heat exchangers, industrial-scale fans).
  • Industrial cutters (e.g., disc cutters, waterjet cutter machines, high-precision laser cutters).
  • Robots for manufacturing (e.g., automated quality control systems, robotic arms for assembly, automated guided vehicles).
  • Industrial-scale food & beverage machines (e.g., fruit peelers, bottle fillers, pasteurizers).

As seen from the examples above, this industry is extremely broad. It creates the machines & tools needed for industrial activities. If you saw a machine in a factory, it’s likely that it was made by a manufacturer from this category.


Similarly, the chemical industry is also a wide domain. It covers all producers that process natural chemical substances into finished products or semi-finished goods. Industries that fall under this sector include:

  • Basic chemicals (produces chemical substances that will be used as materials for further production activities, such as alcohol, chlorine, and hydrogen.)
  • Petrochemicals (processing crude oil into fuel, lubricants, and plastics).
  • Industrial gasses (its products include oxygen tanks for hospitals, carbon dioxide for carbonated drinks, and xenon to be used in car lights).
  • Agricultural chemicals (with products such as fertilizers, pesticides, and crop growth regulators).
  • Coatings, paints, and dyes (can be used to protect and decorate buildings, vehicles, and clothing).

What Is Heavy Industry?

Commercial Vehicles

This industry makes vehicles that are used for business purposes, most often to transport a large number of people or goods. Commercial vehicles like buses and trucks fall under this category.

Designing and manufacturing road-worthy vehicles is a lengthy and complicated process. Before vehicles can be sold in the market, they must pass various certifications. These certifications are comprehensive, as they cover aspects like passenger safety, performance requirements, and emission limits.

Heavy industry manufacturers need to keep track of all audit procedures and requirements using digital checklists and other software applications. Their ecological impact is so extensive that they must make an effort to ensure their shop floors are 100% paperless. Additionally, with this software, they can increase operational efficiency and ensure that they don’t waste additional resources.

What Is Heavy Industry?

Metal Manufacturing

Metals are present everywhere in our everyday lives. From the spoon we use to eat to the plane we fly in, we have the metal industry to thank for. The metal industry takes metal ores, combines them with other materials, and processes them into metals fit for industrial use. For instance, steel we use steel to make pipes, aluminum for drink cans, and copper for cables.

Processing metal is hazardous work. Metal ores and other materials are heated to the point of melting – which is often beyond 1000 °C. Afterward, the molten metal is poured into a cast to shape it into a plate, coil, or any form requested by the client.

Due to the extreme heat involved, metalworking is a risky process. There’s no room for errors. Any mistake can easily be fatal. That’s why ensuring employees are fully competent to perform their roles is crucial in the metal industry.

With skills matrix software, heavy industry manufacturers can keep track of their employees’ skill levels. Skills matrix software is better than traditional Excel-based software because:

  • It automatically color codes employees’ skill levels, making matrices more visually intuitive.

What Is Heavy Industry?

  • It generates individual employee reports that include their personal data, training history, and skill level across various fields.

What Is Heavy Industry?

  • Whenever one of the employees’ certifications is about to expire, it’ll send them an automated reminder.

What Is Heavy Industry?

Besides these heavy industry sectors, be sure to check light industry examples as well!

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Not yet convinced? Be sure to check other success stories as well. Our Digital Work Instructions, Audits & Digital Checklists, Quality Management, and Skill Matrix & Training modules are your one-stop paperless manufacturing software.

What Is Heavy Industry?

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