Amazing factories from around the world

Factories have a reputation for being blights on landscapes, inefficient and automated requiring very little human involvement. In reality, some factories have beautiful architecture, endeavour to be clean and still have people at their hearts. Here are some examples of such factories and what they make.

Tesla factory – Fremont, California

Floor space: 5.3 million square feet (including office space)

Number of staff: 3,000 (estimated)

What do they make: Electric sports cars (the Tesla Model S)

Output: c. 100,000 cars per year

What’s fascinating about it: The somewhat enigmatic Elon Musk bought this factory from the General motors and Toyota partnership, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) and set about transforming it into a car factory fit for the 21st century. Yes, it features state of the art robots which flip and rotate the cars for easy and precise welding access but it has also been developed to benefit its human employees too. Where the factory used to be a dark and unnaturally lit environment, the Tesla factory now has a bright white laboratory feel about it and sky lights which let in natural light to improve working conditions. Current and former employees also reported on Glassdoor.co.uk that free food is often provided to employees – a big bonus in anyone’s book!

Equally as impressive as the building itself is Tesla and Musk’s ambition. Tesla aim to up production of their electric cars to around 500,000 vehicles per year in the hope that the rest of the automotive market will take sustainable transportation seriously. However, to achieve this, Tesla also need to up production of lithium ion batteries. So, Tesla’s next factory is currently being built on Electric Avenue just outside Sparks, Nevada, USA (not in Brixton, South London…). By 2020, Tesla aim to produce more batteries in this plant alone than were produced globally in 2013. They also aim to power the factory using renewable energy to back up their overall green ethos.

Olisur Olive Oil Factory – Marchigüe, VI Region, Chile

Floor space: 2800 m2

Number of staff: 80 workers in the factory, 12 in main offices.

What do they make: Extra Virgin Olive oil

Output: c. 2.5 million litres per harvest

What’s fascinating about it: Firstly, it looks great! It may be concrete underneath but to fit in with the local landscape, the building is clad in a wood- effect recycled type of concrete and glass. The architectural inspiration comes from other agricultural structures native to the Colchagua valley – a very striking look.

It’s also very green. Olisur use sustainable practices during the whole production process. The groves are watered with an irrigation system powered by solar panels and they make an effort not to let any part of the olive go to waste. Many of the pits are sold or reused and converted into biofuels. The rest, along with the leftover olive skins and pulps, is made into fertilizer and used in the fields. The water used in the process along with the water obtained from the olives is treated and sent back to the irrigation systems.

Claudio Lovazzano at Olisur told us, “The goal is to treat the land with the same respect it’s shown us. That way, not only can we become the world’s top extra virgin olive oil brand, we can feel good about doing so.”

It’s efficient too – the factory can process from harvest to finished product within four hours. This means that the freshness, flavour and extremely low acidity level (0.2%) can be achieved and bottled up ready to be poured over your favourite salad or a crusty ciabatta. This production method and low acidity has meant Olisur has won several awards worldwide.

So how many olive trees does it take to make 2.5 million litres of olive oil per year? Well, in the case of Olisur, the answer is 2,600,000 making it one of the largest olive groves in the world. Olisur plant 1620 trees per acre and the high density of trees per acre means the trees grow shorter allowing them to be mechanically harvested.

McLaren Technology Centre – Woking, UK

Floor space: 63,000 m2

Number of staff: Unknown

What do they make: High performance road cars and F1 cars

Output: A select few

What’s fascinating about it: McLaren have an extremely good pedigree when it comes to Formula One. Some of the sport’s greatest drivers have seen huge success behind the wheel of a McLaren; Nikki Lauder, James Hunt, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikonen, David Coulthard, Jenson Button and of course Lewis Hamilton. Since its completion in 2004, it’s fair to say that a large degree of that (more recent) success is down to the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) and McLaren Production Centre (MPC). Here are a few facts about the place itself:

  • Before the factory was built a huge conservation effort was undertaken to make sure adders in the area were moved on to a new and safe environment

  • The lake at the MTC is 3 m deep and contains 50,000m3 of water

  • The factory goes through 1000 litres of chrome paint and around 2000 logos (48 per car!) to decorate their Formula One cars per season

  • The MTC is held together by over 5,000 tonnes of steelwork and 43,000 m3 of glass

  • The resulting look is both striking and, well, big. Big enough to house nine Boeing 747s in fact

  • You’d have to walk roughly 20 miles just to cut the grass once at the MTC. You would have thought they’d have invested in a sit-on mower…

  • To supply the power (to the building, not the cars), over 1000km of cabling is routed throughout the MTC. There’s also 40km of water pipes

  • To keep the place cool in the summer the air conditioning works over time pushing roughly 1,000,000m3 through the air con units every hour

  • The staff aim to look as sharp as the building does so McLaren deck their staff out in Hugo Boss clothing. 14,128 individual items to be precise – all embroidered with each individual’s name

  • To fuel the well-dressed people in the modern, high tech factory, the MTC gets through around 250 eggs and 77 litres of milk each day

  • With all those eggs, you might think the MTC produces a lot of “hot air” but the reality is that McLaren are dedicated to reducing the amount of CO2 they produce and increasing the amount they recycle

  • To ensure all their cars have the aerodynamic properties of a wet fish wearing Lycra, the MTC features a 145m long wind tunnel. The tunnel is made from 400 tonnes of steel and uses a four metre wide fan which can spin up to 600rpm.

Lockheed – Fort Worth, Texas

Floor space: Unknown

Number of staff: 14,988

What do they make: Fighter planes including F-35s, F-22s and F- 16s

Output: Unknown

What’s fascinating about it: The sheer amount of money involved in producing fighter planes is staggering. To develop and build the F-35 fighters, the U.S. Government has budgeted $1.5 trillion. Plus, if you’re a billionaire in the market for a new family run around and your local car dealer just isn’t wowing you, you might consider buying an F-35 for a cool $80 million.

In terms of how the planes are made, there’s not a lot we can tell you as a lot of it is classified. So to avoid being thrown in Guantanamo bay, I think I’ll stick to what’s publicly available online.

The production line is one mile long where they assemble the 20,000 individual components (each plane is made up of 280,000 parts!). This isn’t a quick process though. Where a car might take a couple of days to assemble, an F-35 takes nearly two years to get from one end of the production line to the other. And even then it has to go through rigorous testing before it’s handed over to the air force or navy.

It’s not just nuts and bolts at Fort Worth either. Around 8 million lines of code go into the programming of the F-35s complex computer systems.

The F-35 project hasn’t been without controversy. Many critics say the project is way too expensive and the end result isn’t up to scratch. However, according to Lockheed, production costs have come down considerably and production time has nearly halved. To quote from their website, “The F-35 production process has been called an orchestra where time-tested manufacturing principles, next generation tooling techniques and a highly skilled workforce perform together to produce unmatched capabilities for American and allied forces.”

Middle Port Pottery – Stoke-on-Trent, UK

Floor space: Unknown

Number of staff: c. 500

What do they make: Various pottery products

Output: c. 150,000 pieces of pottery per week

What’s fascinating about it: It’s among some of the oldest factories in the UK. It dates back to 1888 and is still making pottery products to this day. It may not be a hive of technology like the Tesla, McLaren and Lockheed factories detailed above but back in 1888, Middleport Pottery was considered state of the art and was designed with production efficiency in mind but also with staff welfare in mind.

Middleport pottery also had a knock-on effect on other local industries. The canals which surround the area for example were vital logistics channels used to distribute finished products across the UK and beyond. Plus, the steam engine used to power the factory and dry some of the pottery out ran on coal which was sourced from pits in the UK.

The steam engine was used right up to the 1970s when the coal strike put it out of action.

The factory stood the test of time pretty well but in 2011, the factory was in danger of closure due to the poor state of the buildings. Thankfully, The Prince’s Regeneration Trust stepped in and began a £9 million revitalisation project.

Today, the factory is still a major employer in the area and it’s said that each item of pottery produced by the factory passes through 25 pairs of hands before it’s finished. With an output of around 150,000 items, those 25 pairs of hands must be pretty busy!

Ulsan Ship Yard – Ulsan, South Korea

Size: 2.5 miles wide

Number of staff: over 60,000

What do they make: Really big ships

Output: 2000 (since 1974)

What’s fascinating about it: Size is absolutely everything when it comes to the Ulsan Shipyard. The size of the place itself, the size of its operation and of course, the size of the ships it builds.

Ulsan is owned and run by Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) who, this year delivered their 2,000th ship – The Ocean Black Lion. The Ocean Black Lion is pretty big but not as big as some of the others. HHI calculate that the total weight of the 2,000 ships they’ve produced adds up to 126 million gigatons (126,000,000,000,000,000 tons).

On some of the larger ships, just one propeller weighs 100 tonnes and Ulsan has been responsible for constructing some of the largest ships ever including the Globe which was only recently outdone by The MSC Oscar (made by competitor Daewoo). The Globe is roughly four football pitches long and can carry over 19,000 containers.

So back to the ship yard itself – Ulsan makes a complete ship roughly every five days. That means their staff working in shifts to get the job done. It’s tough work but HHI also like to provide for their employees. Staff can benefit from a company car, a company restaurant, a company theatre, a company hospital and even a company school to send their children to.

Nissan Factory - Sunderland, UK

Size: Five mile perimeter (approx.)

Number of staff: 6,700

What do they make: Nissan Juke and Qashqai cars

Output: over 10,000 cars per week

What’s fascinating about it: The Nissan plant in Sunderland is seen as a real bastion of modern British industry. While researching this factory, several articles told of the Sunderland plant as part of a revitalisation of the North of England and part of plans to create a “northern industrial power house”.

This isn’t just empty rhetoric either. The Sunderland plant is highly regarded by the automotive industry and indeed by Nissan themselves who recently selected the Sunderland plant (amid huge competition) to produce it’s leading models – the Qashqai, Note and Juke.

The plant has been in existence since the late 80s and came at a time when the North East was in desperate need of an economic boost. The mining and ship building industries which had traditionally provided jobs were in steep decline and the Nissan plant was a real lifeline to the area in employing just 22 people to begin with but with huge growth subsequently.

Nissan’s activity in the North East has also meant further jobs at other points in the supply chain. It’s estimated that a further 27,000 jobs have been created in the UK at companies who produce components for these cars.

Part of Nissan’s success is down to the ethos of Kaizen. Which is Geordie for, “make stuff better”. Ok, it’s actually a Japanese term meaning, “continuous improvement” but the Sunderland plant live and breathe it and every employee is encouraged to constantly look for ways to be more efficient, more accurate and less wasteful.

The Prelude – Under construction in Korea

Floor space: 488m long, 105m tall, 75m wide

Number of staff: 220-240

What do they make: LNG (liquefied natural gas)

Output: 3.6m tonnes of LNG per year

What’s fascinating about it: Similar to the Ulsan ship yard, the sheer size of the prelude is fascinating enough. When it’s launched in 2016 it will become the largest ship in the world. Though, some argue it’s not technically a ship as it can’t move under its own steam – it has to be towed.

Aside from the mind boggling numbers, the Prelude is also fascinating as it’s set to be a game changer in the world of natural resources. The idea behind it is that it will spend 25 years in roughly the same place (off the coast of Australia) mining and processing gas. It’s the processing part which is important here. Most rigs have to mine the gas and pipe it back to shore to be processed but the Prelude will be able to process it on board and off load it to other ships for distribution direct to the end country. In order to turn gas into a transportable liquid it needs to be cooled to -162 degrees Celsius. As part of the cooling process, Prelude will suck up 50 million litres of water from the ocean every hour.

Once up to speed, the Prelude could produce up to 117% of the natural gas demand of Hong Kong. Speaking of cities, if you stood prelude on its end, it would be taller than quite a few city landmarks including; the Sydney Opera House, The London Eye, the Taj Mahal, The Eiffel Tower and even the Petronas Towers!

In a way, the most impressive thing about the Prelude is not how big it is but how much stuff is packed on to it. As the Prelude is effectively a floating refinery, many of the production elements have had to be miniaturised otherwise the Prelude would need to be island-sized to incorporate your average land based refinery. Oh, and just to throw one more minor engineering challenge into the mix, the Prelude has to be built to withstand a category-5 cyclone. No big deal then.

Bang & Olufsen – Struer, Denmark

Floor space: Unknown

Number of staff: 2,000

What do they make: High quality Audio and visual equipment

Output: Unknown

Bang and Olufsen (B&O) produce some beautiful audio equipment which make some beautiful sounds so it’s only fitting that they should be made in a beautiful factory. Struer has been the home of B&O since 1925 when Peter Bang and Svend Olufsen first started making audio equipment in their attic. The factory and offices have gone through huge changes over the years – notably when the Germans burnt it down during the Second World War. The current incarnation though is ultra-modern and reflective of the company’s dedication to modern design and high class products.

Inside the factory, Bang and Olufsen make use of the world’s largest private electro-acoustic measurement facility which includes a mock living room to see how your favourite tunes come out and bounce off of various surroundings. B&O can also boast one of the most advanced Anodising facilities in the world. As aluminium normally forms a large part of their products, this facility is essential to adding durability. Anodising is an electro chemical process which means using a lot of water. At B&O, they use 30 “baths” to do this each holding 3800 litres. As that’s such a huge amount of water, B&O are constantly striving to reduce their reliance on water to keep their environmental footprint to a minimum

These days, B&O go beyond producing living room hi-fis. You can find B&O kit in top spec cars such as Audis, BMWs and Aston Martins. Although, the CEO drives a Range Rover…

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