In a world full of stuff, you can be forgiven for not really caring where it all comes from. But, in reality, you may actually be missing out on a treat.
The industrial processes behind their creation can be entertaining to watch, and are also fascinating.
Here we honor a few examples of interesting industrial processes behind the making of things. The following list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.
1. The process behind making pencils is pretty interesting
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, 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 cedarwood 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 the 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 the type.
2. Latex glove manufacturing is fascinating to watch
Ubiquitous across the world, latex gloves are an interesting example of industrial processes. It involves the very basic process of farming and harvesting, as well as highly technical manufacturing. A perfect synergy of ancient and ultra-modern technology.
Natural Latex is harvested, technically called tapping, from the Hevea brasiliensis tree. These are mainly found in Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.
The milky latex is actually the tree's sap, and incredibly useful it is. Firstly, molds or formers are cleaned and prepared. To be honest, this phase looks a little creepy, you'll see what we mean in this video.
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 users having an allergic reaction. After this process, the gloves are beaded, for ease of donning. The gloves may then be powdered, sometimes using cornstarch, or chlorinated, to reduce 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 is very satisfying to watch
OK, a bit tenuous to add to a list of industrial processes, but after you watch the video you'll understand our reasoning for including it.
This process, effectively, eliminates the need for separate weld nuts or threaded inserts. This process generates a lot of heat from friction, and this heat is used to thicken the walls of the drilled hole. The thickening process not only looks awesome but also has a practical use. 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. How they make springs is awesome
Well now, how could we live without springs? They are found everywhere, including inside medical devices, tools, electronics, pens, toys, and mattresses, to name but a few.
Crude springs have been used since ancient times. In 1493, Leonardo Da Vinci customized a spring for use inside a pistol, to make it possible for the pistol to be shot using just one single hand. The first coiled spring was patented in 1763.
Today, springs come in various forms, including 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, is passed to a de-reeler. This unwinds the roll 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 specifications needed.
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 manufacturing is another interesting process
Mmmm, who doesn't love tomato ketchup? Different recipes vary, but the basic ingredients tend to include tomato paste/puree, sugar or 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 are prepared and aligned ready for receiving the ketchup.
These bottles are then filled with ketchup, usually using an automated system, caps are added and labels are attached. The bottles of ketchup are now ready for packaging on distribution.
6. The way they make mineral wool is cool
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 slag and rock, melting them down, and then spinning the melt into threads of mineral wool. We are sold already. The slag and rock tend to be sourced from the steel industry. Coke is used to fuel the entire process.
The rock and slag are first partially crushed and then loaded into a cupola in alternating layers with coke. As the coke is ignited and burned, the mineral is heated to the molten state at a temperature of 1300 to 1650°C (2400 to 3000°F).
The molten rock then exits the bottom of the cupola into a fiberizing device. which uses one of two processes. The Powell process uses groups of rotors revolving at high speed. The molten material is distributed in a thin film on the surfaces of the rotors and then is thrown off by centrifugal force, causing long, fibrous tails to form. Air or steam is blown around the rotors to assist in fiberizing the material. A second method, the Downey process, uses a spinning concave rotor and air or steam to help with fiberizing.
The process is similar to that used when making cotton candy, or candy-floss for those in the UK.
Later, a binder is added and 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 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 very cool to watch.
7. Compact disks have an interesting industrial process
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 used, is then stamped onto it while the disk is still near the 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 include precious metals such as silver, 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 are both tasty and fun to watch being manufactured
A food-related example of industrial processes here. We make no apologies.
Ice cream sandwiches are very satisfying to eat and also 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 into the next part of the assembly. Here, two sets of wafers are sandwiched together as the ice cream is simultaneously injected between them. The process is so efficient that around 140 ice cream sandwiches can be produced a minute!
They are then packaged, refrigerated, obviously, and shipped out for you all to enjoy. How pleasant.
9. Shot-peening is fun
Although also not technically "making" something, shot peening is still a pretty awesome example of an industrial process. 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. 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. The way they make car tires is amazing to watch
Ever wondered how car tires are made? So have we.
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, specialized mixers 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.
Then the task of assembling the tire on a tire building machine begins. Different 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.
The last step is to cure the tire. The “green” tire is heated at more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit for twelve to fifteen minutes, vulcanizing it to bond the components and to cure the rubber.
We've deliberately glossed over the full process, as we didn't want to spoil your enjoyment of this video.
Not to mention this 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 is an amazing industrial process
A pretty self-explanatory example of industrial processes, but it's awesome to watch in any case. Industrial molding is used to make hollow things like water 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, then heat it then cool it again.
Afterward, 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.
12. Bullseye! How they make darts
Dart manufacture is a proper example of some old-school 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 a dart point. This is achieved by forcing 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.
13. Potato chip manufacturing is a whole another hypnotizing experience
To start off with, having a batch of potatoes is obviously handy. These are delivered to the factory in large quantities.
Each and everyone 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 preset allowances, the entire shipment can be sent back to the supplier.
Acceptable potatoes are then fed via conveyor belts into a vertical helical conveyor. This removes dirt and stones if any, and the potatoes are 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 can be removed in a cold soak. Color treatment is also added at this stage if required.
The paper-thin potato slices now pass on to 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, and burned ones are removed automatically using optical sorters before packaging.
14. Ever wondered how marbles are made?
Marbles... we all loved them as children, perhaps still do, but how are they made?
Although made of clay or stone in antiquity, modern marbles are usually glass. The process starts by melting recycled glass, as well as previously rejected marble stocks (e.g. marbles that were 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 and is 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 the time intervals of the shearing action, quicker for smaller marbles, slower for large ones.
The still-hot slugs then pass through a series of constantly rotating metal ridged rollers that keep the slugs separated while cooling them and giving 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. The process behind the creation of gin is worth a watch
Gin, aka "mother's ruin" is a quiescently British alcoholic beverage. But how, exactly, is it made?
Well, you could either watch this video or go and visit a distillery. The latter option is far more satisfying, to be honest, try it.
But we digress, the main flavoring 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 and other botanicals, such as vegetables, spices, coriander, or fruit peel are weighed in sufficient quantities for the size of the intended batch.
Plymouth Gin famously uses only four ingredients and it also happens to be one of the best large-batch gins in the world; at least in our humble opinion.
Other popular brands can have a lot more ingredients, however. All of these ingredients are added to a copper still, along with ethanol 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 under pressure 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. These cool the vapor back into liquid form, moreish-ly tasty Gin. Lucky us.
Budget brands are often made using the cold compound method, where the alcohol is mixed with flavors and then strained and diluted to the appropriate strength.
16. How bullets are made is strangely satisfying to watch
Time to end with a bang -- literally and figuratively!
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.
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. This video gives a nice overview and includes the formation of the entire cartridge.
And that's all for now.