Virtual Factory Tours on YouTube

Keep your chin up, global manufacturing! Even though new factory orders dipped recently to record lows, there is plenty of reason to be positive.

  1. We are near the bottom. There may be another 6 months of tough times but it will be a slow and steady climb upwards.
  2. We have been overproducing less. . More companies have been using lean manufacturing to streamline their operations and build just in time supply chains. This means that unlike in other recessions there is less inventory in the system to burn off and the natural demand will come back sooner.
  3. Help is on the way. Although it’s not clear how much of soon-to-be President Obama’s $700+ billion economic stimulus package will go towards infrastructure, construction, banking or the automotive industry, we can expect a boost in new orders to various manufacturing industries that provide goods to these stimulated sectors.
  4. Absent the noise, hear the signal. This is a great time for leaders of manufacturing organizations to guide their teams in reflecting on the voice of their customers, employees and overall trends in technologies, society and markets. Figure out what really matters. There is always good business to be had by those willing to follow the 80-20 rule, face the facts and learn.
  5. Manufacturing is still how things are made. This may seem obvious but when you think about the stunning changes we have seen in the last two decades in the businesses of telephony, finance, news, advertising and many others, it is reassuring that the fundamentals of manufacturing stand firm.

In celebration of manufacturing, I invite all of you to take a few minutes to take a virtual factory tour. There are over 1,300 of these videos on “how to make it” under YouTube. I’ve selected a few that might interest you:
Here is how they make a fireman’s hat: I always thought these things were either shot from fiberglass or formed out of metal. This video is also good for a quick waste identification exercise.

Potato chips (crisps). Watch the journey from a wholesome potato to popular snack food.

A bit more complex than a bag of chips, see how the helicopter is put together.

Maybe it’s just me but this seems like an awfully fixed-asset-intensive method for making wooden barrels.

Marbles. Attention leaders of government and industry: here is how to make more of them when you realize you’ve lost yours. Asks us if you’re not sure you’ve lost them.

What I want to know is how were marbles made when marbles were made out of marble. Carved by hand? Machine into spheres? I used to have a few marble marbles and they were beautiful.
Board assembly of a video card. It would be nice if they showed a pan of the SMT itself rather than just extreme close ups of the board. Seeing the inside of the reflow oven is a treat though.

Hanging crane scale: this is a good video to use for a time observation and work sequence documentation exercise.

Pretzels: classic batch production. More continuous processing and packaging of foodstuffs.

Electrolux Inspiro oven: this is another process that begs for closer observation and a few kaizen events.

The award for the best musical soundtrack goes to… how to make a bucket of bubblegum at 900 pieces per minute.

The award for the best juxtaposition of sinister automation and cheery color goes to: Crayons. Dim the lights, mute the sound and add a psychedelic soundtrack of your choice.

These videos all seem skewed towards continuous processing industries and manual crafts work. Perhaps food and beverage (continuous processing) as well as musical instrument or apparel (armor, fireman’s hats) are day to day objects far more familiar to people than mechanical equipment, industrial chillers or hydraulic components. It is also true that the flow of a one-person operation (crafts work) and the flow through continuous processing equipment are much easier to follow on video. It does give the impression though that manufacturing is either done mostly by machines or all by humans.
It would be good to see more of the human interaction with the process, including the waste and boredom that people working in manufacturing have to tolerate. These virtual factory tours give the average viewer the impression that manufacturing is almost fully value added, which is far from the truth. Many of these videos demonstrate batch even when it could be avoided. It’s a shame that the “how things are made” series doesn’t include more segments of, “…and then the cut materials remain in queue for between 5 to15 days until they are needed by the next process.” And so forth, making for a more realistic perspective on how things are actually made. If television and YouTube viewers realized just how screwed up some of our manufacturing processes were maybe they would rise up as informed consumers and demand improvement, because the other great thing about manufacturing is that it is a very visual industry and the shenanigans become visible and addressable almost immediately, unlike some other industries I won’t mention.
Bear up, global manufacturing! You don’t often get the credit you deserve, but we need you.


  1. Rob

    January 5, 2009 - 3:45 am

    As with most “reality TV” judicious editing takes place to make it fit the (limited) attention span of viewers.
    As Marc says:
    “the show really focuses on automation and high-speed production. The show doesn’t give the same kind of focus on and affection for the employees of these companies …”
    Interesting but flawed. Mind you, it beats Friends (which I can’t stand!)

  2. Jason

    January 5, 2009 - 10:02 am

    “Facory” should be “Factory.”

  3. Eric

    January 5, 2009 - 1:54 pm

    Why are we near the bottom?

  4. Jon Miller

    January 5, 2009 - 2:05 pm

    Hi Eric
    As in all economics it’s speculation. I have some data but not allowed to cite it. I will tell you another secret: if we all believe it’s safe to go out and spend, it will be.

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