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Family Friendly Factory Tours

Family Friendly Factory Tours

It’s spring break for my 6-year-old grandson Bruce, and I’m spending the week with him in Oakland, California. What to do? We make a couple of trips to the park, looking for rocks on Treasure Island (that was a bust). When did the days get so long? Searching the internet for fun things to do with kids, I find the Jelly Belly Candy Company in Fairfield, CA offers free factory tours. Having served my entire career in manufacturing in one capacity or another, I thought this might be fun to share my experiences and knowledge with Bruce, and he might enjoy watching jelly beans being made. Website pictures showed windows looking out over the factory floor, with conveyors filled with brightly colored candies and robot arms picking up crates of jelly beans. The tour is free, and it looked like fun and a great way to entertain a bored 6-year-old.

Jelly Belly Factory
Upon arrival, The Jelly Belly Candy Company makes families feel like they are entering an amusement park with brightly colored signs and an inviting entrance. Kids could roam the park areas and wander through rows and rows of candy. Inside, there was a large cafeteria style restaurant serving pizzas and hamburgers shaped like giant jelly beans. The factory tour began with receiving a hat, watching a video about the history of the company, and then we were free to meander along an upstairs walkway with windows on both sides suited for adults and kids alike. The walkway wound its way through the entire manufacturing process.

Though completely enclosed, there were plenty of opportunities to watch giant tumblers of rolling jelly beans — you could even smell the chocolate ones! Huge robotic arms picked up crates of brightly colored candies and dumped them into the tumblers without dropping a single bean. Spider-like robot arms picked single packs of jelly beans and placed them neatly into boxes. Kids could run from station to station to guess the flavors of various jelly beans by smell only. Large video screens with games kept the kids on tour engaged, but also introduced the company’s quality philosophy. At the end was a free package of multi-flavored jelly beans. The coup de gras!

At dinner with his parents, I thought Bruce would talk about the free jelly beans, the games, the pictures of the presidents made from jelly beans, so I was pleasantly surprised when he described, in detail, the robotic arms and conveyor belts making and taking the jelly beans across the factory floor.

Manufacturing Day, produced annually by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and championed loudly by NIST MEP, occurs on the first Friday of October, but at the Jelly Belly Candy Company, Manufacturing Day occurs every day! Given this, what other similar opportunities are there for families to learn more about manufacturing?

Family Friendly Factory Tours

A little searching online and I found several family friendly factory tours across the nation, most of them free and open to the public throughout the year.

From Companies with Kid-Friendly Factory Tours, I found 28 manufacturing companies offering tours to families. Some tours have a minor charge, but the visitors walk away with a souvenir, like at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory where each visitor on the tour gets a mini Louisville Slugger! Below is a partial list of the companies offering a window to the manufacturing world for kids and adults:

  1. The Jelly Belly Candy Company, Fairfield, CA
  2. The Hershey Company, Hershey, PA
  3. Ben & Jerry’s, Waterbury, VT
  4. Crayola, Easton, PA
  5. Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Louisville, KY
  6. U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (watch money being printed!), Washington DC and Ft. Worth, TX
  7. Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Shelburn VT
  8. Tillamook Cheese Factory and Museum, Tillamook OR
  9. The Peanut Patch (watch peanut butter being made!), Yuma, AZ

At these companies and others, it’s Manufacturing Day every day and a promotion for manufacturing careers beginning with the very young!

Not every manufacturing company can open its doors to the public every day, but components from family friendly tours can be found in the majority of manufacturing facilities:

  1. Cleanliness
  2. Advanced Manufacturing components like robots, automation, sensors
  3. Quality checks and philosophy
  4. Pride of workmanship

Bruce’s first impression of manufacturing was all about these elements. The image we’ve been trying to change for so many doesn’t have to be changed for Bruce. So, start with the tours geared towards families and use these opportunities to introduce kids of all ages to manufacturing in the USA! Here’s the challenge — help us find more family inspired manufacturing tours by tagging your favorite on social media with #FamilyFriendlyFactoryTours!

About the author

Beth Colbert

Beth Colbert is the primary contact for assistance, resources, and sharing for the NIST MEP program partners in 8 states: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. Prior to joining the National Program, Beth served as the Center Director for the program in Ohio as part of the Ohio Department of Development for 6 years. Most of her career was spent working as a research and development engineer in manufacturing for Dow Chemical, Owens Corning, and Lafarge North America. In her career, she developed products and processes for manufacturing in the construction materials industry and received several patents.

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