I want to visit a very interesting factory and be astounded by how it works.
September 7, 2005 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I want to visit a very interesting factory and be astounded by how it works.

A friend and I really want to visit an interesting factory with lots of complex and interesting machinery and processes. We basically want to be astounded by the behind-the-scenes activity of some kind of manufacturing process. Once we decide on which kind of factory would be the most interesting to visit, we would contact someone there and arrange a tour or anything they could offer. Has anyone done anything like this before? Which are the most interesting manufacturing processes to watch? What's a good way to convince someone at the factory to let you come inside? Should we pretend that we're students? Please recommend any kind of factory or operation. I live in Los Angeles, if you can name any specific things or places around here, please go right ahead, otherwise, any recommendation will do.
posted by redteam to Technology (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm still bummed that I missed out on a guided tour of a chip factory here in Portland Oregon. A friend of mine had a friend who had a cousin who worked there. They didn't normally give tours but he was able to take a handful of people in. Supposedly there was a gun that shot liquid Cheezy Puffs out and that they would dry in mid-air before moving along.
posted by pwb503 at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2005

Not really a factory, but the cable car wheelhouses in San Francisco are worth checking out.

A lot of factories might not let people off the street go on tours. Maybe if you had some other reason to be there. I used to be a PC field tech and I got to go into all sorts of cool factories.
posted by bondcliff at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2005

There's a book that might be able to point you to a place...

Watch it made in the USA.
posted by drezdn at 9:48 AM on September 7, 2005

Printing presses or auto manufacturing are great. Start with the HR department. Don't pretend you are students, just be honest and ask about tours or the opportunity to visit.
I've seen printing presses during yearly PR events, hopefully one is coming up for your area.
posted by Wallzatcha at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2005

Are there any Lexus factories in the US? I hear the whole process is completely (or very near completely) automated.

I've also heard that Harley factory tours are really fun, I don't know if they have any in your area.

Any high-tech manufacturer will probably not let you in due to both espionage concerns and the clean room environment they work in.
posted by geoff. at 9:50 AM on September 7, 2005

Sorry, no Harley factories in or near LA.
posted by geoff. at 9:53 AM on September 7, 2005

NUMMI! Ever wonder why the new Pontiac Vibe looks exactly like a Toyota Matrix? This factory explains all... And they have excellent tours. It's quite a trek for you, but it may be worth it.
posted by wzcx at 9:57 AM on September 7, 2005

Jelly Belly!
posted by Lynsey at 9:59 AM on September 7, 2005

I second printing press, especially an old letter press.
posted by planetkyoto at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2005

The Daimler Benz factory in Singelfingen, Germany, offers cool tours.
posted by nyterrant at 10:21 AM on September 7, 2005

Boeing has a factory tour at its Everett, WA plant that I understand is quite good.
posted by kindall at 10:25 AM on September 7, 2005

Newspapers seem very accomodating to allowing student tours, and the process is quite a bit more complex than one may initially believe. From warehousing the paper to its spindling, threading the presses to the folders, and mailrooms with their stackers, bundlers and shrinkwrap stations.

Printing papers may not be the most complex manufacturing process around, but it has some of the biggest machines that allow tourists to see every step.

Or, you could go watch sausage being made.
posted by mischief at 10:26 AM on September 7, 2005

I just googled on "touring Lego factory" and came up with this.
posted by bondcliff at 10:26 AM on September 7, 2005

Meet a guy in the train dining car on your way to Zurich who turns out to be a French Canadian working at CERN. He'll say, "Let me know if you're ever in Geneva, and I'll give you a tour."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:27 AM on September 7, 2005

The best factory tour on which I've ever been was The Ben And Jerry's Factory Tour.

We took the tour as part of a long weekend trip up to Burlington, VT. It was in the winter, so not only did we get the factory tour, but we got the special "Snowshoe tour" around the facility grounds.

Besides, at the end of the tour, you get a pint of free ice cream.
posted by thanotopsis at 10:39 AM on September 7, 2005

Not exactly a factory, but I had the opportunity to tour a US Postal Service mail processing plant last year, and it was fascinating. Lots of robots, and really cool technology. Made me appreciate the mail service that much more.
posted by elquien at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2005

I always wanted to go to the crayon factory.
posted by Alison at 10:44 AM on September 7, 2005

I'd second elquien's recommendation for the postal service -- go to the main LA post office/sorting facility, and ask how you can arrange a tour.

Cool factory tours I've been on: Ford auto assembly plant, Lufkin metal rulers, Celestial Seasonings tea, newspaper printing plants.

Another thought, if you like cool machinery and processes: most American Society of Mechanical Engineers meetings have some kind of tour component to them. (I've tagged along with my stepfather on some meetings and have toured cool things like wind tunnels.) Perhaps get in touch with their LA chapter and see if you can tag along?
posted by Vidiot at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2005

Candy factories are good. I still remember touring the Rowntree's factory in York, seeing Smarties being made, and finding out why folks in the Polo room get free dental care but never, ever have colds.
posted by scruss at 10:50 AM on September 7, 2005

Not really a factory, but the cable car wheelhouses in San Francisco are worth checking out.

Yup, the wheelhouses are very cool!

And while in SF touring not-really-factories, you should head across the bay and go to the Takara Sake Tasting Room and Sake Museum. It's beautiful, and free, and they will pour you many, many different kinds of sake, and they have huge glass windows which look over their bottling facility. It's full of *cool robots* that make sake!

And then, on the way back, you should go take a tour of SLAC, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
posted by rajbot at 10:53 AM on September 7, 2005

I'll second the candy factory suggestion - My SO works at the place where they make Junior Mints and Charleston Chews. She says the factory is incredible - Unfortunately they don't do public tours, though I'd be surprised if you couldn't find a candy factory that does.
posted by soplerfo at 11:03 AM on September 7, 2005

if you're going to come up to visit the jelly belly factory, you should also take the budweiser tour, which is apparently SO FRIGGIN GREAT that a friend of mine did it three times.

hard to find a direct listing for this, but it's listed among other factory tours in "howstuffwork's list of cool things to do in CA"
posted by fishfucker at 11:09 AM on September 7, 2005

If you haven't already, definitely check out the Factory Tours USA site.
posted by tangerine at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2005

Alison, I am SO with you. My dream factory to tour is the crayola factory. I blame it on watching pivotal factory scenes from both Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow during my childhood.

I've always been somewhat bored by beer/distillery tours. Not enough moving parts and such. But you usually get free alcohol, so there's an upside. Unless it's whiskey, then it's just all around bad (for me, anyway).
posted by jetskiaccidents at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2005

seconding rajbot and weapons-grade pandemonium's suggestions.

i used to work at SLAC, and the tour on my first day was jaw-droppingly cool. granted, i had something of an insider's perspective, but a lot of the good stuff is shown during the public tours. forget factories and check out the big science. (i would offer a tour myself, but alas, i have moved on.)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2005

Any factory that uses CNC machining centers. Should be some places that make custom aluminum wheels in LA. Guitars are another good one. You may also just try to go to a metal working machinery trade show, lots of milling machines and lathes doing tricks for the attendees.
posted by 445supermag at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2005

Boeing - Just outside of Seattle.
posted by bamassippi at 1:32 PM on September 7, 2005

It's a hike, but the Utz factory in PA is awesome. They do a different flavor of potato chip every day and the giant flavor machines sift the powdered flavory goodness down on the hot chips as they cycle past. The tour takes place up above the factory floor and as you walk along there's an extremely corny taped travelogue. We loved it. They have a gift shop, too, where you can purchase all kinds of nifty Utz paraphernalia, not to mention large bags of Utz chips to supplement the small bags that they give you after the tour.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2005

The Crayola tour is nice, but is entirely too far.

I'd suggest a beer factory. In a few places, it's a drink-all event afterwards (of course, without an open bar or anything, but they're willing to give you seconds or thirds).
posted by itchie at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2005

The Crayola factory was pretty lame when I was there in 1998. You no longer go into the real factory, you go to a visitors' center where there is one sample machine to watch. Fun, but not like on Sesame Street. I was more excited that they make Peeps in the same building.

I took a professional tour of New England Ropes a couple of years ago. Too far for you right now, but soooo worth it if you ever get a chance to go. No public tours, call and arrange something. Among other things, we got to see their rope-testing lab, where they pull rope under strain until it pops like a shotgun. They make a shoelace-thickness rope that is used by the Army for helicopter rapelling. They make cowboy lariats for lassooing competitions. They have a large group of women who make splices, called "The Splice Girls". And their machines were incredible!
posted by Miko at 1:57 PM on September 7, 2005

If you don't mind visiting really old factories (or even ruins of very old factories), you might see if a tour by the Society for Industrial Archaeology suits your fancy.
posted by tss at 4:05 PM on September 7, 2005

Hummer plant in South Bend, Indiana - went with my high school class as a junior. The test track is awesome. (Hey, before you flame me, I'm not saying buy one.)

The Kellogg's Cereal plant in Battle Creek, Michigan.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:07 PM on September 7, 2005

If you're in my hometown, check out the Sierra Nevada Brewery tour. It's hella cool. (Woo! NorCal pride!)
posted by slimslowslider at 9:08 PM on September 7, 2005

I toured a Proctor & Gamble factory once on a job tour. It was very interesting, especially "The Rack" which stores and organizes the pallets of different products automatically. They seemed very secretive and may not allow public tours.

I have also toured a few sports venues. It was interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes in those places, and most have public tours.
posted by Yorrick at 11:15 PM on September 7, 2005

I've always wanted to tour a mint, but it looks like the only ones that allow tours are Philadelphia and Denver.
posted by bendy at 12:23 AM on September 8, 2005

Oh man, such memories your question brought back. I'm from Norwalk CT, home of Pepperidge Farm. While in grade school, we took the factory tour. Even in the days before Goldfish and Milanos, it was a blast. Great smells+lots of freebies=heaven for little brats!
posted by rob511 at 12:52 AM on September 8, 2005

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