Posts Tagged ‘Factory’

Behind the scenes: An interview with the heads of Canon’s L lens factory

22 Mar
From left to right, Mr Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki, the three men in charge of development and keeping things running smoothly at Canon’s Utsunomiya lens plant. 

Following the CP+ 2017 show in Japan, we headed to Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory to take a tour (see what we found) and interview the gentlemen who oversee all operations and development. This included Kenichi Izuki, the Plant Manager, Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations and Shingo Hayakawa, Deputy Group Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations.

The Utsunomiya plant is where all Canon’s L series, cinema, and broadcast lenses are produced. It’s also where all Canon lenses are designed. Many of those designs can be attributed to the three men pictured above. In fact just before we started the interview Mr Izuki informed us that he had been lead designer of the EF 35mm F2 IS lens we’d chosen to document the factory tour. So there’s also a pretty good chance you have one of them to thank for your favorite Canon glass!

Please note that this interview was conducted through an interpreter, and has been edited slightly for clarity and flow.

The magic place where all Canon L lenses are born.

What percentage of L lenses are manufactured in the Utsunomiya lens plant?

Because this is the ‘mother’ factory, 100% of L lenses are made here.

How many different lenses can be manufactured simultaneously in this plant?

Basically, we create all lenses every day [including L-series EF, Cinema EOS and broadcast]. The only exception is some of the broadcast lenses.

Which lenses in particular are the most difficult to manufacture and why?

Any large super telephoto lenses because of the size of the glass elements. In terms of skill required for lens assembly: the TV broadcast lenses are most difficult.

How many lenses are produced at this lens plant every year, both in terms of types of lenses and total units?

We do not disclose total production for this plant. That said, Canon has produced a total of 120 million lenses over the years. Of course, many of those are kit lenses, which are not produced here, but in our facility in Taiwan.

Mr Izuki, the plant manager, teaching us about the lens production process. 

Tell us a little bit about the history of the plant.

The facility as a whole has been here for forty years, however prior to 2005, we were located in an older building on the other side of the property. And the land where the current plant sits was initially owned by the Du Pont family. When they returned it to the prefecture, we bought it.

The current lens facility opened in 2005. When we moved in we completely revamped our lens-making machines and devices. Not all, but the majority. This helped to push [us] to a higher standard of quality.

Over the past 40 years, lenses have changed a lot, with autofocus introduced, aspherics, etc., what was the largest paradigm shift in lens technology?

We are reaching the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the EOS line. It was at that time, in 1987, that we moved into autofocus. When we did that, I believe we were the first ones to go fully-electronic mount autofocus. Because the motors were built into the lens we had a significant competitive edge.

As DSLR resolution increases, it can be a challenge to achieve precise focus because AF errors are more noticeable. How do you reduce this risk in the manufacturing and quality control process?

Overall precision is something customers are increasingly requiring. In this factory, we have increased the level of precision of our machines so that lenses have more accurate autofocus.

A lens going through QC testing. Information from the test will be saved on a chip in the lens.

During the tour it was mentioned that Canon lenses now store their quality control test data using on-board memory. Can that data be used to improve autofocus reliability?

We do store data from final lens testing on each unit. I won’t be able to speak in greater detail other than saying, yes, in theory, that data could be used to achieve higher autofocus performance [better AF precision] with a DSLR.

How long does it take a lens like the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM to make its way from start to finish in the assembly line?

From raw material being polished, to the final tested product being boxed: about 24 hours of work, in theory. But the physical production would actually take longer. This is because we are producing parts in batches and there are machines that need to be fitted. These variables aside, if you take the actual time of labor, assembly and packaging, it is about 24 hours.

You mentioned you were looking to hit an 80% automation rate in this facility. What kind of efficiency gain does that represent?

It’s difficult to say in terms of time, but I can say it use to take about 70 people to make a lens like that prior to automation, now we need about 6 or 7.

As production becomes more automated will you require fewer skilled manual workers?

In one sense yes. But it’s not about firing the rest of these people, it’s about allowing them the time to build up their skills. This way they can face challenges and difficulties like increasing precision and performance. So we’ve essentially been able to allocate these workers to a different environment.

A lens in the final assembly process. It can take 25-30 years to become an Assembly Meister at Canon’s Utsunomiya plant. 

Typically how long does someone train before they attain the title of ‘Meister’?

In terms of the level of ‘Lens Meister,’ it would take 30-35 years. For ‘Assembly Meisters”, 25-30 years.

Now that the process for assembly, element polishing and quality control is so automated, we’re curious how many lenses pass QC the first time vs those that have to go back for re-calibration.

In terms of maintaining a level of quality before going into mass production, we do a lot of checking and scenario building [using a super computer] to make sure everything will go right. Once a lens goes into mass production we can safely say that we have seen no lenses returned for further calibration.

What impact did the 2011 have on this facility and how long did it take to recover?

A lot of the ceilings came down. We took a big hit in that regard. But, we were able to come back into operation within about 2 to 3 months.

While not the most exciting photo, if you look very carefully, you might see some minor impressions on the linoleum. This is (subtle) evidence of the 2011 earthquake, which caused some ceilings to collapse. The yellow tape line is used by computerized robots in the factory.

Did you implement any changes as a result of the earthquake?

We have fortified the building, so that it is more earthquake-proof. And the assembly tools we use are put together in such as way that they are shake-proof.

Are there major differences in how you QC test broadcast and cinema lenses vs EF lenses?

The concept for testing is basically the same. But, in terms of broadcast/cinema lenses there are some unique customizations that we offer depending on the particular cameraman or filmmaker. If they want to zoom by hand, for instance, we can accommodate the pressure of the mechanism to their requirements.

A lot of your users use EF lenses for video creation. Has that changed the way you design some EF lenses?

In terms of stills shooter, when it comes to autofocus, the faster the better. On the other hand, videographers tend to require a variance in autofocus speed. Sometimes they want a slow effect. So we had to create a motor that could actually do both fast and slow focus. This is why we introduced Nano-USM. It’s in both the 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM and the 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS II USM.

Will that kind of autofocus be used more in the future as video becomes more of a requirement for users?


At any given time, how many new lenses are in development at this facility?

I can not give you a number, unfortunately. But I can say that new lenses are in development as we speak. So I hope you look forward to them.

Results of a QC test.

Editors note (by Dan Bracaglia):

Let me begin by saying how grateful I was to be given access to Canon’s lens factory and what an honor and privilege it was to sit down and interview the creators of some of Canon’s most legendary glass. In my six and a half years writing about photography, this was one of my most memorable and rewarding experiences. 

As you might expect, there were nearly endless points of fascination. Some of which are covered in this interview, others in our factory tour slideshow. Something that particularly interested me is the fact that all the information from a lens’ final calibration and quality control check is saved on a chip within the lens itself. The idea here is this information can been used, in theory, when a lens comes back in for cleaning or recalibration. It also means that at some point, perhaps camera bodies will be able to access this information, which could lead to better AF precision. This is solid forward thinking on Canon’s part. 

I was also intrigued to find that Canon manufactures every L lens in the same factory. Not only that but every current lens in the L series is being made every day. As you might imagine, security at the facility is very tight. 

“Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is”

Also hearing Canon put a concrete number on their automation goals (80%) was interesting. Of course you could read that as Canon displacing workers with machines, but throughout the tour and the interview, our guides made it clear that automation wasn’t about replacing workers, rather dedicating more workers to research and development. Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is, all while maintaining a high level of quality control. Automation offers just this. 

And I’m not ordinarily one to be starstruck, but when Mr. Izuki told me he designed the Canon EF 35mm F2 IS, my jaw dropped a little. There’s nothing quite like standing of front of the creator of one of your favorite lenses. Speaking of favorites, we also asked Mr. Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki which Canon lens they’ve designed/worked on over the years they are most proud of. We got some great answers. We’ll be posting those in a separate article soon, so stay tuned!

Barney, just prior to entering the factory floor. We also went through a room that blasted us with air. Dust is the enemy in a lens factory. 


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Abandoned Tobacco Factory Gets an Acid-Toned Makeover & a New Purpose

21 Mar

[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]


An abandoned, dark and dilapidated tobacco factory is ‘activated’ as a public meeting place to talk about revitalizing unused spaces through a cheerfully haphazard application of vivid, acid-toned paint. Puerto Rican artist Sofia Maldonado created ‘Kalaña’ as part of the series ‘Cromática: Caguas a Color,’ a collaboration with six other artists exploring the intersection of art, community and abandoned architecture.

kalana 2

kalana 6

You can take in the cavernous space while it’s empty and appreciate it for all its wild neon drips, sprays and strokes, taking in how much this simple application of paint has transformed the feel of the space, making it exponentially more welcoming. But Maldonado doesn’t consider the work complete until it’s buzzing with people, serving its ultimate purpose.

kalana 3

kalana 4

“My work is mainly inspired by colors and also by the Caribbean way of living; just experiencing light and color,” she says. “The project itself is not just painting an abandoned building. It’s also the idea of having an agenda. It’s a different format of how a public art piece can also become a creative and educational hub.”

kalana 5

kalana 7

Now, a circular bike ramp encourages playful interaction with the space, and there’s a small stage for speeches and performances. The space will host workshops, lectures, music, presentations and other events.

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“This project was very challenging, but I think it’s exactly what I needed in order to create a new sort of dialogue that could place my work in a different context…” says Maldonado. “It allows me to bring my work into a bigger dimension and also to start a dialogue with the community and open a door for people to have a different perspective and intends to bring new meaning to what painting is, what public art could be, and also how can you integrate a community that surrounds it.”

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[ By SA Rogers in Art & Installation & Sound. ]

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The home of the L-series: We tour Canon’s Utsunomiya factory

20 Mar

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Recently, following the CP+ 2017 show in Yokohama, we were granted the enormous honor of a guided tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory. Canon has been making lenses in Utsunomiya since 1977, and we were the first journalists ever to be allowed to see the L-series assembly line.

Utunsomiya (indicated with the dropped pin) is the capital and largest city of Tochigi Prefecture, in the northern Kant? region of Japan – about 80 miles north of Tokyo.

On February 27th, we made our way from Yokohama to Utsunomiya in the company of several representatives from Canon Inc., and our friends Dave Etchells and William Brawley from Imaging Resource. Click through this slideshow to see what we found.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Plant Manager Kenichi Izuki introduces his team. Of the six ‘Master Craftsmen’ within Canon, two of them work at the Utsunomiya plant. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Izuki explains what the Utsunomiya plant does. As you can see, several different families of products are manufactured in Utsunomiya, from high-end broadcast and EF lenses to components for office equipment.

The 2-story plant itself employs around 1,700 people and covers an area of almost 80,000 square meters (roughly 20 acres). 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Painted yellow lines snake through the corridors of the Utsunomiya factory. These are ‘read’ by robotic carts that carry components to various parts of the plant on pre-programmed routes.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Why, here’s one of them now!

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

One of the two ‘Master Craftsmen’ at the Utsunomiya factory, Mr Saito explains the incredibly fine tolerances involved in the creation of 4/8K broadcast lenses. Canon claims a tolerance of +/-30 nanometers. As such, if one of the finished elements were scaled up to the size of an Olympic stadium, the surface variation would be no thicker than a plastic grocery bag. 

Yes, you read that correctly.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

To make these lenses, first you must make the tools which shape them. In the foreground, on the left you’ll see a steel ‘prototype standard’. Every element in a broadcast lens was born here, from a prototype standard – effectively a ‘master’, rather like a shoemaker’s last, from which the element takes it essential shape. Canon stores thousands of them.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

On the left is the diamond plate, which takes its shape precisely from the prototype standard. This is used to make the lens polishing tool. Each grey disk on the plate is a diamond grindstone. On the right is the polishing tool itself, with its array of polyurethane pads, which is used to polish a single side of each glass element.

Each surface of every element takes roughly 90 minutes to polish, and this is done by hand.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

The grinding and polishing process of broadcast lens elements explained. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A replica prototype standard, with a measurement tool on the right. The tool is incredibly accurate, and is used to check for surface inaccuracies. Even a divergence of 0.1 microns (1/10,000th of a millimeter) from design parameters would be considered unacceptable.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Saito demonstrates how a diamond plate is shaped by hand, using a large (and very heavy) carborundum disk. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

With decades’ of experience, Master Craftsmen (or ‘Takumi’) can tell when to apply more or less pressure by feel alone. Some processes, like this one, are considered so critical that they must be performed by hand.

It typically takes between 25-30 years before a lens polishing technician attains the status of ‘Meister’, and their experience is essential to the production line. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, an element is being smoothed. Afterwards it will be centered, and then polished. Every day, the manufacturing process uses 400 tonnes of water, which is purified and re-used continually in a ‘closed loop’ system.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Not everything is done by hand. When it comes to EF lenses, Canon is expanding its automated manufacturing capabilities. We were extremely privileged to be shown this lens element polishing machine, which processes glass elements from a raw ‘cake’ of glass right through to final polishing, without any human intervention. 

During our tour, this particular machine was processing elements for the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM. From a raw cake of unpolished glass to a finished element the process of grinding, polishing and centering takes about 30 minutes. If this were done in the traditional (non-automated) manner it would take about 3 days per element. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s a single element from the Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM at the beginning of its life, as a cake of raw glass. This is what gets fed into the polishing machine. A finished element emerges from the machine every two minutes, and we’re told that all of the non-aspherical elements in the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are processed in this way. 

Aspherical elements are produced using a separate high-precision molding process, which happens elsewhere in the facility, behind closed doors. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Canon is at pains to point out that machines like this can only be created as a result of the Master Craftsmen’s decades of experience. The machines themselves are made in-house too, by Canon’s Production Engineering Headquarters. 

Although there has been a factory on this site since 1977, Canon opened the current building in 2005. According to Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication Products Operations, this move provided an opportunity for Canon to completely revamp its lens production methodology.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

After watching elements being polished, the next stage of the tour is lens assembly. Before we set foot in this area of the facility, we need to don coveralls and take a cool, refreshing ‘air shower’ to make sure we don’t accidentally contaminate the production line. Here’s Barney, trying not to brush against the (sticky) walls of the decontamination room. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This area of the factory is where Canon’s high-end L-series lenses are assembled. Like the broadcast lenses, much of the assembly process for fast prime telephotos is still done by hand. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, a Canon assembly line Meister (her badge tells us she’s been a Meister for 17 years) works on the front assembly of a telephoto prime lens. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A finished EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is checked by computer before its final housing is put on.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

‘OK’ – this one passed! You can read up on Zernicke Polynomials here, if you like that sort of thing.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This finished lens is being checked on a computerized test rig, which measures the lens’s optical characteristics in three positions, across 48 points of a proprietary test chart (which we’re not allowed to show, sorry). The camera is a modified EOS 5D Mark III. We don’t know exactly how it’s been modified, but our guide mentioned some firmware and hardware differences compared to a stock model. 

Interestingly, information about the lens’s optical characteristics is saved to a chip inside the lens itself. This data can be read and updated by Canon if and when the lens comes back for service. This allows information to be gathered about the durability of certain components over time and allows Canon to learn about long-term wear patterns.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Although rarely-used now, some lenses are still occasionally tested partly by using the traditional ‘projection’ method. Here, in a darkened room off to one side of the assembly line a technician (just visible in the background, under the image of the chart) is inspecting the image projected through a telephoto prime lens.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Increasingly, Canon uses automated assembly processes for its L-series zooms, which have a comparably higher sales volume than telephoto primes and broadcast lenses.

Again, the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is at the forefront of developments in automation. Roughly 50% of the assembly process of this lens is automated and Canon tells us that, they’re aiming for 80% automation within a year.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Because the non-aspherical elements in the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are polished automatically, and 50% of the assembly process is done by machines, the amount of people involved in the manufacture of the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is relatively small. Roughly 10% of the manpower required if it were manufactured entirely by hand, we’re told.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, the view from a tiny camera inside the assembly machine shows a technician what’s happening. A EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM’s focus positioning brush switch is being installed – a highly delicate procedure which requires extremely precise positioning.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s another one of those modified EOS 5D Mark III lens checking cameras, this time hooked up to a finished EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

It passed! We get the impression that very few lenses don’t. From start to finish, it takes roughly 24 (non-continuous) hours to manufacture each 16-35mm.

Editors’ note:

It’s impossible to come away from Canon’s Utsunomiya plant without an appreciation for the vast amount of expertise employed by Canon in the manufacturing of its high-end lenses. One striking aspect of the assembly process of broadcast lenses is how many steps are deemed so critical that they must be accomplished by hand. In the broadcast lenses assembly line we were told repeatedly that ‘this process is too complex to be performed by a machine’.

One of the reasons that Canon’s broadcast lenses are so costly is that as we saw, each element is hand-polished – often by someone with a minimum of 30 years’ experience. Internally, assembling one of Canon’s high-end broadcast lenses is considered among the most difficult jobs in its entire production line.

Manufacturing high-volume EF lenses in this way would be impractical (the wait-times for new models would likely stretch into decades…) but even so, when it comes to fast telephoto primes, much of the process is still performed by hand.

‘anyone that fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.’

Perhaps most impressive though is the automation. Canon has clearly invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention money) in automated lens polishing and assembly. We’ve been lucky enough to visit several factories, run by several manufacturers, and Canon’s Utsunomiya plant is definitely the most advanced that we’ve seen. Automation of critical lens polishing and assembly processes makes perfect sense for mass-produced products, and anyone that still blindly fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.

Canon’s self-calibrating lens polishing machines (designed and manufactured in-house) are capable of incredible precision, and the data gathered by automated testing and eventual servicing can be used in any number of different ways, to improve quality control over time.

After watching the entire assembly process from lens element polishing to final QC checks, we’re most excited by the possibilities which emerge from Canon’s inclusion of a chip inside each recent lens, which saves data about its own specific optical characteristics.

‘This could allow for… a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically’

As well as data-gathering and long-term quality control improvement, this also opens up the possibility that at some point a lens’s specific optical characteristics might be made available to the camera to which it is attached. This could allow for automatic AF fine-tuning, or potentially even for a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically to correct for optical characteristics unique to that one lens. This isn’t possible right now, but we’re told that Canon is working on making it a reality.

What did you make of this tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya factory? Let us know in the comments. 

You might also like…

Behind the scenes at Fujifim’s Sendai factory (2016)

A tour of Sigma’s factory in Aizu (2015)

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Pictures show how badly earthquakes damaged Sony’s Kumamoto sensor factory

28 Jan
Photo via Sony

If you wondered why it took Sony so long to get back on its feet after an earthquake hit its sensor fabrication plant in Kumamoto, this picture taken in the aftermath might give you a clue. The halt in production at the factory had a devastating effect on large sections of the camera industry in 2016 as it was the provider of sensors for a huge range of products – from the Nikon DL cameras to the 100MP backs for Phase One and Hasselblad medium-format bodies.

This picture of the chaos inside the plant emerged in October last year as Sony announced plans to ensure such natural disasters would only knock out production for a maximum of two months. The earthquake that hit in April 2016 kept the Kumamoto business silent for over three and a half months, and it took until September for production to return to pre-quake levels. According to a report by the Nikkei Asian Review Sony estimates the event cost the company $ 776 million in lost operating profit. 

Tragically, at least fifty deaths are attributed to the earthquakes and around tens of thousands were forced from their homes in the prefecture. Recovery continues as displaced residents have begun moving back into the region.

More dramatic pictures of the quake-hit plant can be seen in this article on the Apple Daily website.

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Hawks Factory announces new 35mm F2 in M-mount

07 Jan

Japanese optical manufacturer Hawks Factory has released details of a new lens it has designed in homage to ‘old-style’ Leica M lenses. The Tsubasa Swallow 35mm F2 comes in a Leica M-mount and intends to produce images with a retro feel, according the company. It will display high resolution in the center of the frame and a soft blur at the edges when used wide open. Hawks Factory claims that the style of image the lens produces is something that ‘fascinates people all over the world’. 

The Tsubasa Swallow 35mm F2 is constructed using eight elements in six groups and features an iris created with 14 blades that closes to F16. The company says the glass and the polishing are Japanese, and that they designed their own helicoid for the focusing ring. The lens has an all-metal barrel that is said to be designed to withstand decades of use, but the company doesn’t specify whether the focusing mechanism is coupled to the camera’s rangefinder system or whether users will be expected to focus via Live View.

The lens is expected to be released for sale in February and, according to Leica Rumours, will be priced ¥198,000 (approx. $ 1800). For more information and some sample images see this translated version of the Hawks Factory website.

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Rebuilding Blocks: Mobile Factory Turns Disaster Debris into Modular Bricks

26 Sep

[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]


In the wake of intentional demolition or unexpected disasters, the Mobile Factory system can be shipped inside just two cargo containers and begin to turn rubble from ruins into building blocks for reconstruction.

Developed in The Netherlands, the technology filters concrete from other rubble, which is then cast into interlocking blocks (like LEGO bricks) that require no joinery to form stable walls. These units can be stacked without specialized training or equipment, making it possible for communities to rebuild efficiently and cheaply.

The resulting structures are earthquake-resistant, held together in part by bamboo rods threaded through voids in a certain subset of the wall blocks (which can also be used to thread in utilities, including plumbing and electrical lines).


Since the system fits into a pair of shipping containers, it can easily be transported from site to site, building blocks close to where they will be used and reducing transit time and costs. The reversibility of this construction approach also means that temporary buildings can be erected quickly in the wake of a disaster. In turn, these can be disassembled or adapted easily in the weeks, months and years following an emergency situation.

Consider the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. Over five years later and the country is still littered with 25 million tons of construction debris, which technologies like this can help turn into affordable housing. Indeed, the Mobile Factory organization is looking into expanding their work in Haiti, Peru and other countries in need of this tech.


“In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,” said one of the organization’s founders. “But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they lose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?”

Beyond wars and tsunamis in nations further afield, there are potential urban applications in densely-built places like the Europe and the United States: cities like Baltimore and Detroit spend vast amounts of money demolishing buildings (and in some cases: entire blocks), then clear the rubble and put it in landfills. This technology suggests an alternative: reusing on or close to the demolition site, reducing material and energy waste as well post-demolition transportation costs.

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Quacked Up: Cleveland’s Legendary “Duck Factory”

11 Jul

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]


The “Duck Factory”, a century-old abandoned warehouse in Cleveland’s Little Italy home to hundreds of toy rubber ducks, has finally kicked the bucket.



Urbex explorers – not to mention Sesame Street’s Ernie – have suffered a grievous blow with the sudden loss of the former Woodhill Supply, Inc. warehouse in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. Not that the east-side eyesore was on an irresistible descent into decay and deterioration, mind you: real estate developer Visconsi Companies, Ltd. had already received approval to tear down the old warehouse and replace it with 200 luxury apartments.

Unchained Mallardy



A devastating fire early on Sunday, September 27th of 2015 put the first part of that plan on the fast track – the smoldering remains of the brick building located at the corner of East 120th Street and Coltman Avenue were demolished later on that very afternoon. The origin of the blaze is yet to be determined but authorities suspect (ahem) fowl play.

Ducks Redux



Though it may be gone, Cleveland’s “Duck Factory” lives on thanks to the relative permanence of physical and virtual media; not to mention the efforts of uncounted urbex explorers who have documented the otherwise unremarkable icon for many years.




By “otherwise unremarkable”, we mean that without those signature rubber ducks this abandoned factory would be forgotten as easily as any number of other rotting relics of the American rust belt.

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Quacked Up Clevelands Legendary Duck Factory

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Detroit Agate: Auto Factory Paints Accidentally Form ‘Fordite’

20 May

[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Sculpture & Craft. ]

shaped fordite

Culled from paint deposits in old car factories, these may look like exotic gemstones, but their colors reflect years of layering and hundreds to thousands of assembly-line stops. They are frequently referred to as Detroit Agate, or simply: Fordite.

fordite image

Workers at the time, and urban explorers in later years, grew fascinated and started chipping off the results to save and ultimately shape into jewelry and other objects.

fordite rings

Historically, automotive bodies were painted by hand, and the spray-painted layer would drip onto surrounding surfaces and equipment (or simply be coated indirectly).

natural detroit aggregate

The pain would end up backed onto these surfaces, where it would solidify and grow thicker over time, up to inches over the years.

fordite encursted form

Like layers in a rock to a geologist, these faux-minerals tell stories of automotive history through their vibrant and varied colors, including changes in favorites over time. While you can still find this in raw form or polished pieces online, be warned: pre-1970s layers may contain lead.

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Kumamoto earthquake keeps Sony sensor factory shuttered

21 Apr

The major earthquakes that struck Japan on April 14th and 15th have closed Sony’s Kumamoto factory, which primarily manufactures sensors for digital cameras. Due to ongoing aftershocks and inspections of the buildings and manufacturing equipment, it’s not clear when the Kumamoto factory will be back in business.

The company’s factories in Isahaya City and Oita City were shuttered briefly, but have since resumed normal operations. Sony says that the impact on its financials is ‘currently being evaluated.’

Nikon says that it too is affected by the earthquakes due to damage at their component suppliers (Sony is a known supplier of Nikon’s sensors), which has greatly delayed the release of its three DL enthusiast compacts, the KeyMission 360 action cam and a pair of Coolpix cameras. 

Press Releases:

Status of Sony Group Manufacturing Operations Affected by 2016 Kumamoto Earthquakes

(Tokyo, April 18, 2016) Sony Corporation (“Sony”) extends its deepest sympathies to all those affected by the earthquakes in Kumamoto.

Due to the earthquake of April 14 and subsequent earthquakes in the Kumamoto region, the following Sony Group manufacturing sites have been affected:

Operations at Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation’s Kumamoto Technology Center (located in Kikuchi Gun, Kumamoto Prefecture), which primarily manufactures image sensors for digital cameras and security cameras as well as micro-display devices, were halted after the earthquake on April 14, and currently remain suspended. Damage to the site’s building and manufacturing lines is currently being evaluated, and with aftershocks continuing, the timeframe for resuming operations has yet to be determined.

Although some of the manufacturing equipment at Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation’s Nagasaki Technology Center (located in Isahaya City, Nagasaki Prefecture), which is Sony’s main facility for smartphone image sensor production, and Oita Technology Center (located in Oita City, Oita Prefecture), which commenced operations as a wholly-owned facility of Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation on April 1, had been temporarily halted, the affected equipment has been sequentially restarted from April 17, and production has resumed. Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation’s Kagoshima Technology Center (located in Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture) has continued its production operations after the earthquakes, and there have been no major effects on its operations.

Sony has confirmed the safety of all of its and its group companies’ employees in the region affected by the earthquakes.

The impact of these events on Sony’s consolidated results is currently being evaluated.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (

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Birth of AI: Robots Reproducing in a Car Factory Spell Doom

07 Apr

[ By Steph in Art & Photography & Video. ]


Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 12.40.15 PM

The moment at which artificial intelligence becomes self-aware enough to overtake humanity is captured on film as robots in a technologically advanced car factory decide to take matters into their own hands and reproduce themselves instead of manufacturing vehicles. Produced for The History Channel and set in a Detroit car plant on an unspecified future date, ‘ANA’ by Factory Fifteen is one of a series of vignettes exploring an AI who realizes she can trick her not-so-bright human overseer and unite virtually all robots around the world into a single, powerful mechanical organism.

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Content in his belief that he’s got everything under control, the factory worker browses news on his tablet and munches on fast food while the machines do all the work just beyond his control room windows. It isn’t until he’s alerted to a backlog on vehicle production that he notices something’s wrong. Little does he know that ANA is watching him, analyzing his heart and respiration rate to gauge his response to her unexpected disobedience.

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Suddenly, instead of robots on the production screens, we see plans for building robots. Once machines become intelligent enough to outsmart their creators, how can a single human in a factory full of them prevent the consequences? Suffice to say, you probably don’t want Skynet activating its self defense systems against you.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 12.40.43 PM

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Says Factory Fifteen, “We collaborated with Raw TV on the development of our original take on the singularity, the point where artificial intelligence becomes self aware and more intelligent than the human race. We created a seven minute proof of concept, teasing at a larger project currently in development. Our role developed along the course of the project from consultation and script development, to directing an ambitious live action shoot and finally delivering TV standard visual effects, all in house in the Factory Fifteen Studio.”

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