Thursday, November 17, 2011

World's Largest Megafactories

The World's Largest Factories

The world seems to get smaller every day. It started off with the invention of something we take for granted today: modern transportation. Just imagine how life-changing it must have been to complete a trip in a fraction of the time it had taken since the dawn of time by stepping into a car or purchasing a train ticket. Within a few years, the world had changed forever.

Today, international travel and Internet access have shrunk our world once again. Tourists think nothing of hopping on a jet to fly halfway around the world on a whim, and people of all ages chat or play video games with friends who live thousands of miles away just as easily as if they lived next door.

Although most take full advantage of these expanded horizons, very few think about where all those modern conveniences actually come from. To find out more, let’s take a look at a few of the world’s largest factories:

Boeing Everett
Location: Everett, Washington State, USA
Product: Airplanes
Size: 399,480 square meters or 98.3 acres

Not only is this the biggest factory in the world, it’s the biggest building, too! In fact, this facility also houses a credit union to handle the financial needs of its many employees as well as five different coffee stands and several cafeterias to keep them fueled.

This factory was originally opened in 1967 to make the famous Boeing 747, the first wide-body aircraft. Since then, the Boeing Everett factory has expanded their operations to include similar models including the 767, the 777, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliner.

Although this factory is Boeing’s most recent contribution to Everett, their history with this area precedes the 747. During World War II, they opened a plant in this town to build subassemblies for the B-17, and they built a second facility to make parts for the B-52 and the KC-135 in the 1950s.

If you’ve ever taken a commercial flight, chances are you’ve flown in one of the planes made at Everett. To get a better look at this factory and learn more about the future of aviation, take the official tour of the Boeing factory.

Foxconn Longhua
Location: Longhua, Shenzhen, China
Product: Electronics for Apple, Dell, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, and more
Size: 1.16 square miles employing over 500,000 workers

Next time you fire up your iPad or make a call on your iPhone 4S, think about this: it probably came all the way from Shenzhen. Foxconn Longhua, more like a small city than one large factory, is home to over half a million workers and responsible for pumping out the vast majority of the world's most popular electronic products.

Foxconn has facilities in other parts of China as well as in other countries, but this is the largest and most famous division. In addition to the manufacturing plants, this self-contained community has its own hospital, downtown area, swimming pool, and fire department. Most workers live on-site in crowded dorms. In fact, this area is considered by some to be the most densely populated square mile in the world.

Unfortunately, the suicide and accidental-death rate is also extremely high. If Foxconn sounds familiar, it’s probably not because they’ve made your favorite gadget. Chances are you’ve read or heard the reports of labor-camp conditions and workers who would rather hurl themselves off the nearest roof than spend one more minute at Foxconn.

Before you start picturing filthy dorms, unsafe food, and broken equipment, reporters who managed to infiltrate this factory reported that the facilities were not the problem. Instead, the biggest problem was that workers were sometimes forced to work for 70 hours or more each week without speaking a word. In any other country, workers compensation lawyers would not allow this to happen.

Jean-Luc Lagardere Plant
Location: Blagnac, France
Product: A380 Airbus
Size: 199 million cubic feet

To create the world’s largest commercial airplane, this company definitely needed one of the world’s largest factories. This building comes in right behind the Boeing Everett Factory as number two on the list of giant buildings.

The grounds are huge too: the entire site covers a little more than 200 hectares or 495 acres. In addition to ten massive assembly buildings, this factory also has its own fluid and energy plant, a fueling station, and a massive network of offices, restaurants, and service businesses to assist the workers.

To construct the exterior of the massive A380 Airbus, components made in several different countries are trucked into Station 40, a single bay within the complex. Once there, a jig positions each part for the workers to assemble. This takes about a week. Next, the aircraft moves on to Station 30, a three-bay area, to be outfitted for passengers.

At this time, the factory is only capable of creating an average of one unit per week. This capacity is more than enough to meet current demand, but the factory was pre-configured to allow both Station 40 and Station 30 to double in size if orders suddenly start to roll in.

Hyundai Ulsan Korea
Location: Ulsan, Yeongsang, South Korea
Product: Automobiles
Size: Five factories on 5 million square feet

Hyundai has a number of factories throughout the world, but Ulsan is their largest. It's also the biggest automotive factory in the world. This facility employs 34,000 workers and pumps out 5,400 cars per day on average. To export their product, Hyundai has their own pier in the Ulsan Harbor capable of docking three 50,000-ton ships at once.

To add an aesthetic appeal to this massive complex and reduce their carbon footprint, this factory has planted more than 58,000 trees on site. Often referred to as “the factory in a forest,” Hyundai Ulsan is modern, bustling, and quite attractive.

Ulsan isn’t a popular tourist attraction. In fact, practically no one goes there unless it’s for business. This may be why many of the businesses are named after one of the biggest employers in the region. Here are just a few of the local attractions that carry the Hyundai name:
  • Ulsan Hyundai Dockyard
  • Hyundai Horang-I, or Tigers, Football Club
  • Hotel Ulsan Hyundai
  • Hyundai Arts Center
  • Hyundai Sports Clubhouse
  • Hyundai Department Store

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building
Location: Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
Product: Space Shuttle
Size: Eight acres

The US Space Program as we know it has come to a close after thrilling generations with thoughts of outer-space travel, but this building is still open. Construction is no longer going on, but tours are now available if you'd like to get an inside look at this once-restricted area. Once inside, you'll be able to gaze at the 525-foot ceilings in wonder and view the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

Curious about just how tall 525 feet, or 160 meters, really is? Here are some numbers to put it in perspective:
  • The Statue of Liberty is much shorter at only 305 feet, or 93 meters.
  • You could stack three Empire State Buildings on top of each other inside the VAB and still have room to spare.
With private companies just starting to take a serious look at interstellar tourism, you can only imagine what the future might hold for this massive factory.

From tiny iPhones to the Airbus, the world’s largest factories have made an equally large impact on the majority of the population.

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Editors note:
All factory images have been sourced from Wikipedia, except:
Jean-Luc Lagardere Plant image credit: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-20079594-52/building-the-a380-the-worlds-largest-passenger-plane/

Hyundai Ulsan Korea image credit: http://logisticsweek.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Industrial-Robot-Hyundai-Heavy-installed-at-Kia-Motors-Slovakian-plant1.jpg