If you ever get the opportunity to go on a factory tour of the Tesla plant in Fremont, California, then you’ll get to meet two of the world’s largest robots—Cyclops and Thunderbird. I actually learned this tidbit from video footage captured by the CBS5 KIPX San Francisco news team. They were given the rare opportunity to bring cameras into the Tesla factory.
Usually, the only way to go behind-the-scenes is by taking a plant or factory tour in person. However, some companies don’t offer factory tours to the general public. For example, Tesla only allows owners of its cars to tour their plant, making the cost of a tour at least $35,000.
Other popular U.S. consumer brands offer factory tours, but their factories are overseas. For a glimpse of an Apple iPhone factory, you need to go to Shanghai, China.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to track down a digital (video, website or app) factory tour to get a teaser of how your favorite products are made. Digital factory tours are hard to find. Most companies don’t produce them because competitors will scour them to see what proprietary secrets might slip through. That’s why cameras and cell phones are often banned when you go on a factory tour.
But some carefully crafted digital factory tours do exist, mostly to entice you into taking the next step to plan an onsite tour. As you’ll see in the following, some work better than others.
Amazon Fulfillment Center
Located in Everett, Washington (about 25 miles north of Seattle), tours of this airplane manufacturing plant cost $20 for adults, $14 for youths 15 and under. You might be able to see part of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner assembly process.
Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Ford makes the F-150 truck in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. Tickets for adults are $17. The tour includes the truck plant, a museum and the Manufacturing Innovation Theater, which looks awesome.
It doesn’t get any more “America’s Heartland” than touring a John Deere plant in Des Moines, Iowa. The video is actually closer to a tour than a commercial. In fact, I think it’s the actual video shown at the beginning of the 1.5-hour onsite tour.
The plant in Tuscaloosa was the first Mercedes passenger vehicle plant outside of Germany. Book the $5 plant tour. Watch the plant overview video. Tuscaloosa is also home to the Mercedes-Benz off-road test track, which appears to be quite the feat of landscape engineering.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
You need to sign up ahead of time for this tour. Since it’s NASA, you’ll also need government-issued identification. While security is a bit stiffer, you can take a camera on the tour. Meanwhile, you can see some of the laboratory in some of this video on how to build a clean space machine.
This one’s a little different. It’s actually a Google Maps tour of the brewery in Chico, California. Scroll to the bottom of the page to access the tour. On the way, you’ll see all of your options for onsite tours.
When it comes to factory tours, Tabasco really spices it up! Their 10-stop tour takes you through the factory, salt mine and more in Avery Island, Louisiana. See the highlights in this video, featuring slo-mo, drone and historical footage!
In Georgetown, Kentucky, Toyota builds its Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350 models. The tour is free and gives you a front row seat for a symphony of “Kentucky craftsmanship.”
Grab your passport
I confined my “digital tours” to the contiguous U.S. If you decide you want to take an international factory tour, then add three of the largest buildings in the world to your bucket list: the Volkswagen Wolfsburg Plant (the largest factory in the world), the Hyundai Ulsan plant in South Korea and the Airbus Jean-Luc Lagardere Plant in France.
While digital factory tours can be informative and even entertaining, nothing beats being there in person. Manufacturing plants can be noisy environments, but after going on a factory tour you’ll have an even deeper appreciation of how a product is made as well as a greater appreciation for the people who make it.
Do you have a favorite factory tour? Let us know what we’re missing through our social channels.