16 Mildly Interesting Industrial Processes for Making Things

We live in a world “dripping” in stuff and things, most of which we don’t really need. We have become so dependant on some that it would be inconceivable to live our lives without them. Many others are simply overlooked and unappreciated as we go about our daily lives. Most of these objects have a very, well mildly, interesting industrial processes behind them.

In this article, well video collection really, we honor a few examples of interesting industrial processes for making things. Some we couldn’t live without, others you’d probably never even thought of. The following are an arbitrary selection and are in no particular order.

[Image Source: Pixabay]

1. Pencils

Let’s kick off our list of “mildly” interesting industrial processes with a “doozy”. Where would we be without pencils? They come in a seemingly infinite variety of colors and shapes and are loved by children and adults everywhere. But how are they made? It’s surprisingly simple yet incredibly fascinating to watch.

First, the “leads” are created by mixing graphite powder and clay, which is then baked. Next, the pencil bodies need to be made. If wooden, the right material needs to be selected to resist some pressure without breaking and be soft enough to sharpen. Staedtler in Germany, use cedar wood from California. Precut sections are delivered to the factory. These have grooves cut into them to receive the pencil “leads” and special glue is added to stick the leads in place.

Next, every second piece is sent to a separate conveyor. The leads are added to the first and these second wooden slats are glued to the first ones to form a multi-pencil sandwich. These are then compressed to let the glue cure. Now the pencil sandwiches are cut lengthways and shaped to form individual, unsharpened pencils, which later have the points sharpened. The final phase generally involves lacquering the wood to hide the grain, adding branding and other markers for identification of type.

2. Latex gloves

Ubiquitous across the world, latex gloves are an interesting example of industrial processes. It involves the very basic process of farming and harvesting and highly technical manufacturing. A perfect synergy of ancient versus ultra modern technology.

Natural Latex is harvested, technically called tapping, from the Hevea brasiliensis tree.  These are mainly found in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Milky latex is actually the tree’s sap, and incredibly useful it is. Firstly, the molds or “formers” are cleaned and prepared. To be honest, this phase looks a little “creepy”, you’ll see what we mean. Simultaneously, the latex is prepared, latex gloves are actually not 100% pure. Additives are added to improve the elasticity and shelf life of the latex.

The cleaned “Formers” or molds are dipped into the latex concoction at a specified time depending on the desired glove thickness. Once coated, the “formers”, plus latex covering, are heated or vulcanized to prevent cracking whilst drying. Gloves are then leached to remove excess latex to minimize the chance of user allergic reaction. After this process, the gloves are beaded, for ease of donning. If the gloves are not to be powdered, sometimes using cornstarch, they are chlorinated. This reduces their tackiness. Workers then remove the gloves from the “formers” by hand ready for quality checking, packaging, and shipping.

3. Flow Drilling holes in stuff

OK, a bit tenuous for “making things” industrial processes, but don’t you “make holes”? Yeah, weak we know but wait until you watch the video. You’ll understand. This process, effectively, involves creating your own inserts. This process generates a lot of heat from friction that thickens the walls. The thickening process looks awesome but also has a practical reason. Increasing the wall thickness provides additional strength and eliminates the need for inserted brushings or welded nuts. Nice.

The process is fascinating to watch and just look at how hot the metal gets! Awesome.

4. Springs

Well now, how could we live without springs? They are found everywhere including within medical devices, tools, electronics, pens, toys, and mattresses, to name but a few.  Interestingly, springs were first used in clocks around the 16th Century and are found everywhere today. They will tend to come in various forms, compression, torsion, wire or extension springs. But how are they made? Let’s take a look.

Steel cord, of varying diameters, depending on final product needs, are passed to a de-reeler. This unwinds the role and feeds the cord to a computer guided forming machine. Here the chord is coiled to the desired length and cut into segments. The entire process will vary depending on the final product and client specifications, obviously.

Spring manufacture is highly automated and can produce staggering quantities of springs in a very short period of time. Warning, the following video is mesmerizing and a great example of industrial processes.

5. Ketchup

Mmmm, who doesn’t love tomato ketchup? Various recipes vary for slightly but the basic ingredients tend to include tomato paste/puree, agave nectar, natural sweetener, spices, salt, vinegar and onion powder. Obviously, the tomato paste is the main ingredient. The paste is pumped into a holding tank ready for use. Depending on the batch size, measured volumes of paste are passed into a cooking kettle where it is heated and constantly stirred. The other ingredients are then added in a correct proportion to the batch size. The mixture is constantly stirred.

Before bottling the ketchup needs to pass through a series of gradual cooling stages. At the same time bottles prepared and aligned ready for receiving the ketchup. These bottles are then filled with ketchup, caps are added and labels are attached. The bottles of ketchup are now ready for packaging on distribution.

6. Mineral wool

Our next example of industrial processes is another interesting one. Mineral wool has a massive variety of applications across many industries. The process starts by taking big chunks of rock, melting them down and then spinning the melt into threads of mineral wool. We are sold already. Rock tends to be sourced from the steel industry and includes the use of slag. Coke is used to fuel the entire process. All ingredient rock is partially crushed and sent for processing. The molten rock is passed into a large rotating drum. This drum spins and whips the lava in a fine wool, a binder is usually added at this stage too. It is a similar process used when making cotton candy, candy-floss for those in the UK.

Later a large pendulum device is used to deposit the wool in zig-zagged sheets, the number of layers of which will vary depending on final requirements. This loosely packed mat is then passed through rollers to compress it and form the more uniform sheets. Additional heat is usually applied to cure the binder. The sheets then pass through more rollers to compress it further, which are then trimmed and cut to form the final product. Pretty neat and it is very cool to watch.

7. Compact Disks

Does anyone still buy these? Anyway, CDs (except the master), if you didn’t know, are 99% polycarbonate plastic. The reflective bit makes up the remaining 1% or so. Molten polycarbonate plastic is used to make the actual disk. Digital information, if not blank, is then stamped onto it whilst the disk is still near to melting point. Often, this involves a die and the stamp creates microscopic bumps called “pits and lands”. These provide the binary coding for the data to be “read”.

Once complete, the reflective foil layer is applied using a process called sputtering or wet silvering. This allows the reader’s laser to reflect the light back to the player. This is usually made of aluminum but can also be made of precious metals like silver but can be gold or platinum. To finish, a lacquer coating is applied to seal the reflective layer and prevent oxidation. This is an incredibly thin layer and offers very little protection from physical damage. As we all know far too well. Cool eh?

8. Ice cream sandwiches

Another food related example of industrial processes here. We make no apologies. They are very satisfying to eat and indeed to watch being made. Honestly, you won’t be disappointed. The process is pretty simple, but the engineering behind the machines less so. Ice cream is first whipped to add air. This is fed to the next part of the assembly. Here two sets of wafers are “sandwiched” together as ice cream is simultaneously injected between them. The process is so efficient that around 140 ice cream sandwiches can be produced a minute! Wow.

They are then packaged, refrigerated, obviously, and shipped out for you all to enjoy. How pleasant.

9. Shot-peening

Although not technically “making” something, this is still a pretty awesome example of industrial processes. One of the lesser known industrial processes, shot-peening literally involves blasting pieces of metal with millions of tiny metal balls. The process leaves the metal’s surface with a “peened” texture and also hardens it as a bonus. Sounds awesome right? Given the very small size of the projectiles, you can’t see the bombardment with the human eye. This video gives a good overview of the process, enjoy.

10. Car Tires (or Tyres)

Ever wondered how car tires are made? So have we. Thanks “How things are made” you’re awesome. Tire production is a multistage process and consists of varying components that all come together to form the final tire.

Tires are made from around 15 basic “ingredients”. These include natural and synthetic rubber, chemical additives and carbon black pigment. Giant blenders are used to mix these ingredients under high temperatures and pressures. “Recipes” will vary slightly from each part of the tire but the final result at this stage is thin “rubber gum”. These are rolled into sheets.

Later, various combinations of cloth, metal, and rubber from each component of the tire, skeleton, walls and treads etc. are combined together to form the final product. All layers are assembled and heated, well vulcanized, together to produce a tire. We’ve deliberately “glossed over” the full process, we didn’t want to spoil your enjoyment of the following video. Not to mention it could be a full article on its own. We never realized there were so many industrial processes and stages to making tires, hey ho.

11. Rotational Molding

A pretty self-explanatory example of industrial processes, but it’s awesome to watch in any case. This process is used to make hollow things like tanks, troughs, marine floats and kayaks for example. The process is surprisingly simple, dare we say primitive? Basically, you make a hollow mold of something. Heat it then cool it again. Pour in some plastic powder and then heat and rotate once again. The powder tumbles around inside the mold and gradually adds layers as it comes into contact with the hot sides. We told you it was pretty simple.

Obviously owing to the process you can’t actually “see” anything other than the mold spinning. Here is a nice overview of the process in action. Enjoy.

12. Bullseye! Making Darts

Dart manufacture is a “proper” hardcore example of industrial processes. The flight shafts are made first. 3-meter aluminum rods are loaded into a machine that has several cutting tools. These tools work from many angles simultaneously on each rod. The rod is made into several shafts with threads cut so they can be attached to the final dart barrel. A cross-saw cuts the slot for the arrow flights on the other end. The entire process is carried out with a liberal amount of oil to carry away the metal shavings and keep the cutting tools cool.

Brass rods are loaded into a similar machine to make the dart barrels. These are then tooled and fashioned into the barrels, the bit you hold. One end is threaded and tapered, so the shaft can be attached as well as to make the arrow aerodynamic. Grooves are also cut into the barrels’ surface to make the arrow easy and comfortable to hold. Barrels can also be made of tungsten, these allow for narrower parts to be created. Professional players actually prefer tungsten darts, FYI.

The final step is to create the dart point. This is achieved by forcing a pointed steel into the hollow part of the barrel using a hydraulic press. Dart segments are then assembled and the flights attached to create one perfectly crafted dart. Tidy.

13. Potato chips (crisps for us Brits)

Having a batch of potatoes is obviously a good start. These are delivered to the factory in large quantities. Each and every one is checked for quality and taste. Some are punched with holes to allow tracking through the cooking process. Defective potatoes are kept to one side, for instance, if they have green edges or blemishes. If their weight exceeds the factory’s present allowances, the entire shipment can be sent back to the supplier. Tough crowd.

Acceptable potatoes are then fed via conveyor belts into t a vertical helical conveyor. This removes dirt and stones, if any, with the potatoes then passed on to an automatic peeler. The peeled potatoes are then passed through a revolving impaler/presser that cuts them into uniform, paper-thin slices. The blades can be either straight or ridged depending on the product. Excess starch is removed in a cold soak, but not always. Color treatment is also added at this stage if required.

The paper thin potato slices now pass onto the important bit, frying, and salting. They first pass under air jets to remove excess water. The slices are then passed through very hot oil (between 176 and 190 degrees centigrade). They are gently passed along with paddles. As they complete their trip through the oil, salt is added at a predetermined concentration. Flavoring is also added if needed. Potato chips are then drained of excess oil, cooled and sorted, burnt ones are removed automatically using optical sorters.

14. Marbles! Yeah.

Ooo marbles. We all loved them as children, perhaps still do, but how are they made? Although originally made of clay or stone in antiquity, modern ones are usually glass. The process starts by melting recycled glass as well as previously rejected marble stocks (e.g. too big or too small). All of these random assortments of glass are fed into a kiln for melting. 16 hours later, or so, the molten glass is drained from the kiln ready for processing.

A cutter bar cuts the stream of molten glass every half a second to make little pieces of glass, called slugs. These will eventually become marbles. Marble sizes are determined by altering shearing action time intervals, quicker for smaller marbles and vice versa. The still hot slugs then pass through a series of constantly rotating metal ridged rollers that keep the slugs separated whilst cooling and also give them their signature spherical shape. The marble’s final appearance, or coloring, was determined in the kiln as air passed coloring through the molten glass.

Solidified marbles are then sorted by size. Marbles with more intricate designs are actually made by hand. This process is fascinating, you’ll find it in the second half of the following video. We won’t spoil the fun for you.

15. Gin!

Ah, good old “mother’s ruin”. Gin is one of the most popular spirits on Earth, and for good reason. But how is it made? We’ll you could either watch this video or go and visit a distillery. The latter option is far more satisfying, to be honest, try it. Anyway, the main ingredient, for those who don’t know, is Juniper berries. Depending on the size of the distillery, ingredients will either be sorted and processed by hand or via automation.

Whatever method is used, the basic process is more or less the same. Juniper berries are weighed in sufficient quantities for the size of the intended Gin batch. Gin products do vary in what other ingredients are then added. This could include vegetables, spices, coriander or fruit peel, for instance. Plymouth Gin, from Plymouth funnily enough, famously uses only four ingredients (P.S. it’s also one of the best in the world, well in our opinion). Other popular brands can have a lot more. All of these ingredients are added to a copper still. The still generally already includes alcohol derived from grain fermentation. This is tasteless, but soon won’t be. Water is generally added to reduce the alcohol content.

The still is heated until the alcohol starts to boil. The temperature is carefully controlled to prevent excess water evaporation, which can spoil the batch. Distillation takes about 6-7 hours, generally. Sampling is conducted throughout to monitor quality and alcohol content. The now flavored alcohol evaporates and passes through a series of tubes and condensers. This cools the gas or vapor back into liquid form, moreish-ly tasty Gin. Lucky us.

16. Bullets

Time to end with a bang! Sorry. There is a massive variety of bullet types and manufacturers, ranging from large companies to individuals who load and reload ammo with simple tools. Larger organizations tend to automate at least part of the process. Bullet making techniques also vary widely. We follow the process employed by Hornady in the U.S. for making their soft point exposed core type bullet, aka a Hornady interlock.

Firstly, the metal jacket for the bullet is formed from stretching copper cups to receive the lead core at a later stage. Hornady prefers to use mechanical force to achieve this rather than heating and molding. This takes several stages to gradually stretch the copper to its desired length and diameter. A lead core is later added inside the jacket. Further stages of mechanical force are used to slowly form the characteristic bullet shape.

This reshaping leads to excess lead being forced out of the top of the bullet. These are trimmed off. Further forced reshaping occurs and once again excess lead is trimmed off the nose until the complete finalized bullet shape is achieved. Excess lead is shaped to form the bullet tip. The following video gives a nice overview and includes the formation of the entire cartridge.

So there you go. Our random selection of 16 mildly interesting industrial processes for making things. Did you enjoy them? What would you have included?

Sources: RedditWonderfulEngineering.comQuora.comAzuraDiscMadeHow

SEE ALSO: 20 Best Engineering Documentaries You Should Watch


Stay on top of the latest engineering news

We'll keep you posted!