Watch It Made Blog

Viewing category: Factory Tours
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Wednesday, 22 March 2017
El Quetzal de Mindo Chocolate Factory

During a week spent in Quito, Ecuador, we took a day trip to Mindo, a small town in the cloud forest of the Andean foothills. Located about two hours by car from Quito, Mindo is a convenient outpost for adventurous ecotourism. Popular activities there include hiking, rafting, tubing, rock-climbing, ziplining, mountain biking, birding, butterfly observing, and “herping” (reptile-watching).

My daughter had already visited Mindo with friends while spending a college semester in Quito, so she was the perfect guide. We spent the morning observing and learning about the area's dozens of hummingbird species from a man who planted a small forest with hummingbirds' favorite plants.

A hummingbird on a branch

The focus of our visit was El Quetzal de Mindo, a lodge and restaurant with its own chocolate factory. The El Quetzal de Mindo buildingBefore seeing the chocolate-making operation, we lunched in the small, quirky eatery, conveniently located across from the El Quetzal factory. Amid the restaurant's vibrant decorations, we had local quinoa in every form imaginable—from quinoa burgers to quinoa juice to quinoa soup to quinoa pudding. All of the offerings there are vegetarian and vegan, which was perfect for my animal-loving and environmentally friendly children.

The Chocolate Tour at El Quetzal de Mindo

El Quetzal offers tours of its chocolate-making process—from bean to bar—as well as a high-end gift shop, restaurant, bar, and lodge. The tours cost about $10 per person, are offered in English or Spanish, and run seven days a week, 9:00am–5:00pm.

Early in the tour, our guide cracked open a cocoa pod to show us its fleshy seeds and introduced us to the plant on which cocoa pods grow.

A hummingbird on a branch

We then saw (and smelled!) the fermentation of cocoa beans.

A hummingbird on a branch

Next we saw thousands of cocoa beans laid out to dry.

A hummingbird on a branch

After drying, small batches of cocoa beans are roasted to give them a caramelized, nutty flavor. Specialized metal machines and screens crack and winnow away the cocoa beans' thin shells, leaving behind the meaty cocoa nibs.

A hummingbird on a branch

The cocoa nibs are then ground and refined into smooth, melted chocolate. The chocolate is then poured into molds and wrapped by hand in the delicious bars and novelty products that are sold in the company's gift stores and across the Andes.

A hummingbird on a branch

To reward us for listening to the 40-minute tour without stuffing our faces with every bit of chocolate we laid eyes on, the tour guides offered all visitors a steaming cup of tea and the richest, most decadent chocolate brownie you could ever have. The brownie comes with a little cup of pure, unsweetened melted chocolate, to which you can add a variety of seasonings, including honey, salt, and chili. Chocolate enthusiasts are also offered trays with samples of different percentages of cacao, with a motley assortment of fillings and spices.

A hummingbird on a branch

Posted By Karen Axelrod at 7:04 PM

Cape Cod Potato Chips

Painted mural above receptionist's desk with glimpse of hallway into factory on self-guided tour.

On a rainy, raw May afternoon, which felt more like winter than spring, I warmed up by taking the self-guided factory tour of Cape Cod Potato Chips. The company is located in Hyannis, Massachusetts, midway along the southern coast of Cape Cod. Its factory tour is, in fact, a great activity for any rainy day. (If you are on Cape Cod on March 14, you may want to make a special trip to tour the factory, as that date is both National Potato Chip Day and likely to be rainy in Massachusetts.)

Stained glass window as one enters the Cape Cod Potato Chip factoryAs you enter the facility, an impression of the company’s history is immediate. On the left, a stained-glass panel in the window depicts a Cape Cod Potato Chip bag. On the right is an original Cape Cod Potato Chip bag, including its price sticker, from 1980. After answering any questions you may have about these interesting items, the receptionist who greets you asks you to sign in and then hands you a tour brochure before you get started.

Your self-guided tour occurs in a corridor running alongside the factory. Framed sketches and diagrams of the production process adorn the walls. Through the windows on your right, you can see the production activities themselves. Wearing hairnets (and even beardnets, where appropriate), employees are busy with a variety of production steps. Sliced potatoes tumble in hot oil. Chips glide upward on a conveyor belt to be salted. One worker randomly stabs potatoes with a knife and then cuts them in half. Not far away, another employee stands over the vibrating conveyor belt to spot and remove dark, blemished potato chips.

Some impressive miscellaneous facts:

  • The factory has 18 kettles for cooking potato chips.
  • The operation churns out an amazing 350,000 bags of chips per day.
  • The company processes about 44 million pounds of potatoes every year.
  • When a delivery truck arrives, typically with about 50,000 pounds of raw potatoes, the workers produce a test batch of chips before they accept the delivery.

At the end of the tour hallway, you reach a gift shop, where you can buy many varieties of potato chips, along with t-shirts, hats, and other Cap Cod Potato Chips merchandise. As a thank-you for your visit, you even get a free snack bag of chips.

Gift shop at end of tour

Posted By Karen Axelrod at 5:28 PM
Monday, 9 May 2016
Ford Rouge Factory Tour

During a recent trip to visit the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I made an excursion to take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour in Dearborn. While driving there from Ann Arbor on I-94, I knew I was near Detroit when I saw the famous Uniroyal Giant Tire (made for the 1964 New York World's Fair) at the side of the highway.

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour starts at the Henry Ford Museum, where you take the 12-minute bus ride to the Rouge plant. First, in the Legacy Theater, watch an 11-minute film chronicling the history of the Ford Motor Company, including rare archival footage. Learn that initially it took 12 hours to assemble a Model T car, known informally as Tin Lizzy. Famously, Henry Ford experimented with the movement of work to man rather than man to work—the advent of the assembly line. By 1915, it was taking only 53 minutes to put together a Model T.

The Station 2 Manufacturing Innovation Theater presents a loud, dramatic experience that seeks to replicate the feel of being on the Rouge factory floor. Bright lights flash. Stamping, booming sounds encompass you. The floor beneath you rumbles during the final testing. At the front of the theater, a model car rises from below the ground. Two robots, one on each side, demonstrate the steps of production.

Ride the elevator to the observation deck, 80 feet above the ground. In the distance, you can see the smokestacks of power stations that turn paint fumes into electricity. But not all is industrial. The Dearborn Truck Plant's final assembly building has a green, living roof. The sedum plants that grow there collect and filter the water runoff from storms or melting snow. The vegetation also provides habitats for nesting birds and keeps the factory and its surroundings cooler than they would be under a conventional roof made of synthetic materials. At 10.4 acres, Ford's green roof is one of the largest living roofs in the world.

Posted By Karen Axelrod at 6:01 PM
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