AskDefine | Define factory

Dictionary Definition

factory n : a plant consisting of buildings with facilities for manufacturing [syn: mill, manufacturing plant, manufactory]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A place where manufacturing takes place.
  2. A building within which manufacturing takes place.
  3. A device which produces or manufactures something.
  4. In a computer program or library, a function or method which creates an object.



manufacturing place
manufacturing building
producing device
in computing, a function or method that creates objects

Extensive Definition

A factory (previously manufactory) or manufacturing plant is an industrial building where workers manufacture goods or supervise machines processing one product into another. Most modern factories have large warehouses or warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production. Archetypally, factories gather and concentrate resources — workers, capital and plant.

History of the factory


Many believed that ancient China had been the first to create factories. In ancient China, imperial and private workshops, mills, and small manufactories had been employed since the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BC), as noted in the historical text of the Zhou Li. During the medieval Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), independent and government sponsored industries were developed to meet the needs of a growing population that had reached over 100 million. For example, for the printing of paper money alone, the Song court established several government-run factories in the cities of Huizhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Anqi. The size of the workforce employed in these paper money factories were quite large, as it was recorded in 1175 AD that the factory at Hangzhou alone employed more than a thousand workers a day.

Western world

Although large mills and manufactories were established in ancient Rome, the Venice Arsenal provides one of the first examples of a factory in the modern sense of the word. Founded in 1104 in Venice, Italy, several hundred years before the Industrial Revolution, it mass-produced ships on assembly lines using manufactured parts. The Venice Arsenal apparently produced nearly one ship every day and, at its height, employed 16,000 people.
Many historians regard Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory (established in 1761 in Birmingham) as the first modern factory. (Other claims might be made for John Lombe's silk mill in Derby (1721), or Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill (1771)—purpose built to fit the equipment it held and taking the material through the various manufacturing processes.) One historian, Jack Weatherford, contends that the first factory was in Potosí, for processing silver ingot slugs into coins, because there was so much silver being mined close by.
British colonies in the late 18th century built factories simply as buildings where a large number of workers gathered to perform hand labor, usually in textile production. This proved more efficient – for administration and for the distribution of raw materials to individual workers – than earlier methods of manufacturing such as cottage industries or the putting-out system.
Cotton mills used inventions such as the steam engine and the power loom to pioneer the industrial factory of the 19th century, where precision machine tools and replaceable parts allowed greater efficiency and less waste.
Between 1820 and 1850, the non-mechanized factories supplanted the traditional artisanal shops as the predominant form of manufacturing institution. Even though the theory on why and how the non-mechanized factories gradually replaced the small artisan shops is still ambiguous, what is apparent is that the larger-scale factories enjoyed technological gains and advance in efficiency over the small artisan shops. In fact, the larger scale forms of factory establishments were more favorable and advantageous over the small artisan shops in terms of competition for survival.
Henry Ford further revolutionized the factory concept in the early 20th century, with the innovation of mass production. Highly specialized workers situated alongside a series of rolling ramps would build up a product such as (in Ford's case) an automobile. This concept dramatically decreased production costs for virtually all manufactured goods and brought about the age of consumerism.
In the mid- to late 20th century, industrialized countries introduced next-generation factories with two improvements:
  1. Advanced statistical methods of quality control, pioneered by the American mathematician William Edwards Deming, whom his home country initially ignored. Quality control turned Japanese factories into world leaders in cost-effectiveness and production quality.
  2. Industrial robots on the factory floor, introduced in the late 1970s. These computer-controlled welding arms and grippers could perform simple tasks such as attaching a car door quickly and flawlessly 24 hours a day. This too cut costs and improved speed.
Some speculation as to the future of the factory includes scenarios with rapid prototyping, nanotechnology, and orbital zero-gravity facilities.

Siting the factory

Before the advent of mass transportation, factories' needs for ever-greater concentrations of workers meant that they typically grew up in an urban setting or fostered their own urbanization. Industrial slums developed, and reinforced their own development through the interactions between factories, as when one factory's output or waste-product became the raw materials of another factory (preferably nearby). Canals and railways grew as factories spread, each clustering around sources of cheap energy, available materials and/or mass markets. The exception proved the rule: even Greenfield's factory sites such as Bournville, founded in a rural setting, developed its own housing and profited from convenient communications networks.
Regulation curbed some of the worst excesses of industrialization's factory-based society, a series of Factory Acts leading the way in Britain. Trams, automobiles and town planning encouraged the separate development ('apartheid') of industrial suburbs and residential suburbs, with workers commuting between them.
Though factories dominated the Industrial Era, the growth in the service sector eventually began to dethrone them: the locus of work in general shifted to central-city office towers or to semi-rural campus-style establishments, and many factories stood deserted in local rust belts.
The next blow to the traditional factories came from globalization. Manufacturing processes (or their logical successors, assembly plants) in the late 20th century re-focussed in many instances on Special Economic Zones in developing countries or on maquiladoras just across the national boundaries of industrialized states. Further re-location to the least industrialized nations appears possible as the benefits of out-sourcing and the lessons of flexible location apply in the future.

Governing the factory

Much of management theory developed in response to the need to control factory processes. Assumptions on the hierarchies of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers and their supervisors and managers still linger on; however an example of a more contemporary approach to work design applicable to manufacturing facilities can be found in Socio-Technical Systems (STS).



  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Part 1. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.

External links

factory in Arabic: مصنع
factory in Catalan: Fàbrica
factory in Czech: Továrna
factory in Danish: Fabrik
factory in German: Fabrik
factory in Modern Greek (1453-): Εργοστάσιο
factory in Spanish: Fábrica
factory in Esperanto: Fabriko
factory in Persian: کارخانه
factory in French: Usine
factory in Scottish Gaelic: Factoraidh
factory in Korean: 공장
factory in Indonesian: Pabrik
factory in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Fabrica
factory in Icelandic: Verksmiðja
factory in Italian: Fabbrica
factory in Hebrew: בית חרושת
factory in Dutch: Fabriek
factory in Japanese: 工場
factory in Norwegian: Fabrikk
factory in Norwegian Nynorsk: Fabrikk
factory in Polish: Fabryka
factory in Portuguese: Usina
factory in Romanian: Fabrică
factory in Quechua: Phawrika
factory in Russian: Фабрика
factory in Sicilian: Fàbbrica
factory in Simple English: Factory
factory in Slovenian: Tovarna
factory in Serbo-Croatian: Tvornica
factory in Finnish: Tehdas
factory in Swedish: Fabrik
factory in Tajik: Корхона
factory in Turkish: Fabrika
factory in Ukrainian: Фабрика
factory in Samogitian: Dėrbīkla
factory in Chinese: 工廠

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

armory, arsenal, assembly line, assembly plant, atomic energy plant, bindery, boatyard, boilery, bookbindery, brewery, brickyard, cannery, creamery, dairy, defense plant, distillery, dockyard, factory belt, factory district, feeder plant, flour mill, industrial park, industrial zone, main plant, manufactory, manufacturing plant, manufacturing quarter, mill, mint, munitions plant, oil refinery, packing house, plant, pottery, power plant, production line, push-button plant, refinery, sawmill, shipyard, subassembly plant, sugar refinery, tannery, winery, works, yard, yards
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