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Manufacturing Brightens Your Holidays in So Many Ways

holiday gathering at a table with food and place settings
Credit: iStock/PeopleImages

It’s true that there is “no place like home for the holidays,” but during these months of sweater weather, family gatherings, seasonal celebrations, and greeting cards, it is easy to take the creature comforts that make all these things possible for granted. Let’s take a look at how manufacturing — including products manufactured by clients of MEP Centers throughout the MEP National NetworkTM — makes this season a little warmer, both literally and metaphorically.

Sweater Weather

As we turn the corner from fall to winter, temperatures take a turn too, meaning it’s time to pull out your favorite sweater, which was likely manufactured.

However, layering with sweaters and other comfy clothing is not always enough to keep warm. We use furnaces to keep our homes at comfortable temperatures with HVAC ductwork directing the heat to the right places. All of these components, including the thermostats we use to specify our preferred temperatures, are manufactured.

When we think about the holidays and staving off winter chills, what probably comes to mind is a bright image of a hearth and a roaring fire within. While it may seem old-fashioned, that powerful image of winter comfort is also influenced by manufacturing thanks to the prevalence of fabricated firelogs that have been a part of American culture for decades.

As far back as the 1930s, lumber mills have compressed sawdust and wood particles into “presto logs.” These firelogs were used as clean and economical forms of heat, as well as for cooking. That tradition has continued with today’s manufacturers finding new recipes and technologies, such as incorporating petroleum — and now even plant-driven waxes — to make it easier to light a fire while also decreasing the emissions released when burning real wood.

Family Gatherings

Picture it: The table is set. Family and loved ones are gathered around. Perhaps a turkey, roasted to perfection, sits beside the green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, steaming on the table. From the dinnerware used only for special occasions to the cloth napkins that are so nice you almost hate to get them dirty, you have a manufacturer to thank.

No holiday gathering would be complete without a delicious dessert or two (or three) as many of us enjoy plenty of sweet treats throughout the holiday season. For me, homemade chocolate chip cookies are the best, and even these home-baked delights have a strong connection to manufacturing.

Chocolate manufacturing plants have multi-layered processes that convert raw cocoa beans to chocolate chips, while also ensuring food safety. First, the cocoa beans move through two levels of cleaning on a conveyor belt, then two levels of heating to ensure all shells are removed. What is left, the nibs, are then combined with cocoa butter and sugar. After these items are blended, more cocoa butter is added to garner the right viscosity. Once this is reached, the chocolate is added to a drop depositor and the chips are dropped on to a conveyor belt and sent through a cooling tunnel and checked for any impurities. Finally, they are packaged and ready to be mixed into cookie goodness!

And of course, none of these fine foods would be possible without the appliances we use to create them. Every oven, range, and stovetop we use to prepare our holiday meals and baked goods are manufactured.

Seasonal Celebrations

Along with family gatherings, holiday parties and seasonal celebrations are a big part of what makes our winter days merry and bright. Whether you are enjoying libations with the holiday meal or while ringing in the New Year, popping the cork on a favorite festive beverage with friends is often an iconic part of these events. The fact is, the cork-popping cue that starts the celebration wouldn’t be possible without manufacturing.

In order to protect the integrity of the beverage of choice, it is imperative to keep the right amount of oxygen out of the bottle. Cork manufacturers follow a careful purification, molding, and testing process to ensure that once the cork is popped, the quality of the sparkling juice or wine is sure to meet the highest standards for any celebration.

Plus, think about the drinks themselves: The cider or wine that goes into cork-topped bottles is made via a manufacturing process that crushes fruit, extracts juices, and bottles the signature drinks so that they can be shipped to stores near you.

Greeting Cards

Whatever you choose to celebrate during this holiday season, it will likely involve giving or receiving of some sort. Some of the most common things exchanged are greeting cards. Whether you choose to send an annual letter summarizing the past year, a family photo, or a hand-crafted holiday message, statistics show that there are over 1.6 billion holiday cards purchased each year. All of those paper products are manufactured.

One exciting area for innovation when it comes to printing these days involves personalization. Greeting card manufacturers are combining letterpress and digital printing to create custom cards that have a personalized, hand-made look. The process begins with a hand-drawn design. From there, a designer works to separate the parts of the card that will be produced via letterpress versus those that will be digitally printed. After the design is finalized, the printer begins with traditional letterpress elements while the digitally designed pieces are developed. The custom made digital pieces are then overlaid on top of the letterpress components, creating a unique hybrid style card.

How Will Manufacturing Brighten Your Holidays?

These are but a few of the many ways manufacturing is integral to our holiday traditions. As you can tell, a lot of what we remember most about the holidays depends, in some form, on manufacturing. Moreover, manufacturing innovations — such as improvements to firelogs and digital printing — are changing how we celebrate. Manufacturing makes our holidays more environmentally responsible and our correspondence more creative and personal, potentially helping to spark new traditions in the process.

One thing is for sure: As we go through this busy season, we can thank our manufacturers for the many ways they help us to enjoy the season!

About the author

Ben Vickery

Ben Vickery is Group Manager of Marketing & Communications for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He previously served as...

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