Inside the Factory

Inside the Factory

Gregg Wallace visits a huge vacuum cleaner factory in the heart of Somerset. This 32-acre site is a hive of activity where 1.2 million vacuums are made every year. Gregg is following their biggest seller, the Henry vacuum cleaner in bright red. 

He starts with head of operations Stuart Cochrane, who is taking delivery of 25 tonnes of clear polypropylene pellets. They are transported to the factory floor via a spaghetti junction of pipes and then mixed with a red colouring agent. A massive moulding machine heats the plastic pellets and forces them into a drum-shaped mould under 300 tonnes of clamp pressure, the equivalent weight of 24 London buses. There are 47 of these huge moulding machines in the factory, churning out a total of 5,000 vacuums every day. 

Next, Gregg’s vacuum needs a bit of personality. The famous smile was drawn on for the first time as a joke by an employee at a trade show, but it attracted so much attention that it quickly became a permanent fixture. It is created using a process called PAD printing. Silicone pads are dipped in ink and pressed onto the surface of the moulded plastic ‘face’ to create the eyes and smile, after which it is cured under heat to dry the ink. 

With the drum and face moulded and printed, and wheels made from moulded recycled plastic, the bottom half of the vacuum is assembled in less than a minute. Timing is crucial – the drum is still hot from the moulding machine, so the wheels must be slotted in before the plastic cools and shrinks. 

Now for the top half of the vacuum cleaner, which starts with a moulded motor housing. The motor needs power, so Gregg meets with wiring section manager Nathan Bandy at the loom assembly station. Nathan explains that the wiring loom is a cluster of cables that connect to the on/off switch, transmitting electricity to the motor. 

With so many electrical and mechanical parts in each vacuum, the factory has its own on-site testing centre. Gregg can’t quite believe his eyes, as everywhere he looks, they are being put through their paces. It is like a torture chamber for vacuum cleaners! 

Back at the factory, the top half of Gregg’s vacuum is coming together, and the shiny top cover is emerging from another moulding machine. 

Next, Gregg is sent off in search of a set of ‘wands’ for his vacuum, and project manager Roy Poole has the magic touch. The wands start life as 422mm stainless steel tubes which are fed into a machine that reduces one end by 1mm and stretches the other by 1.75, so they will slot neatly together to form a solid link between the brushes and the hose. 

At last, the components can be brought together at the final assembly station, and it happens fast! The lower housing forms the base, then the motor with a jacket of acoustic wrap. The upper motor housing drops in on top with the reeler and ten-metre-long cable coming in above, before it is all finished off with the shiny cover. The machine is plugged in and powered up to check the suction reaches a precise 225 millibar. Gregg is stunned to see that all the components come together in less than 30 seconds, before they’re checked, boxed up and sent to the dispatch area. 

The storage and distribution centre is 21,000 square feet, the size of nine tennis courts, and from there, the boxes of vacuums roll down a clever chute to one of the ten trucks that leave the factory every day, each carrying nearly 1,000 machines.

Inside the Factory – Friday 11.05 on BBC2

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