Visiting the Toho Bead Factory

For the beading people, today was the highlight to visit the Toho Bead Factory. I was very interested in seeing how they made the beads and the visit was fascinating.

A bus arrived at 9 am with the CEO and a couple of other people from Toho Beads to take us to the factory which is about 45 minutes from the centre of Hiroshima. When we arrived the manager was waiting for us and led us to a room where they explained what we were going to see.

Then the tour started by showing us the barrels of glass waiting to be recycled. If any glass rod or bead fails their quality control, it is recycled so that the glass can be used again. In this way they end up with very little waste.

0 - glass to be recycled

The next stop on the tour was to see the smelting kilns (or whatever they are called in glass blowing). In addition to the ones we saw, they have some other industrial sized kilns.

0 - retrieving molten glass from kiln 0 - molten glass from kiln

We were taken up to see where they mixed the glass mixture but could not take photos because the formula is a secret. They use silica sand from Australia because of the purity.
The molten class is then put into a machine that extrudes it into a tube – it was fascinating and we could only take a picture of the tubing coming down a long channel, cooling until it is cut into rods about 24 inches in length.

0 - extruded tube moving along track 0 - rods of extruded tubes

The diameter of the tube is checked and if it is not the right size the tubing is rejected and returned for recycling. They are then passed to another process where the external diameter is checked. In the picture, the rods are being shaken in a tube that has specific diameter holes in the bottom. If the tubes go through the hole, they go on. All the others are rejected and returned for recycling.

0 - checking diameter of tubes 0 - measures for checking diameter

Once they are sorted, the rods are passed to the cutting room. This was another room we could not photograph but they have automated cutting machines and manual cutting machines for the other beads.

When they have been cut, the beads have sharp edges so they are heated with charcoal powder to smooth off the edges. The powder prevents the beads sticking together.

0 - beads that have been heated with charcoal 0 - beads after heating

Once they come out, they are washed in large tubs and dried

0 - beads being washed

The beads can now be finished which may be an additional heating process, coating with gold or silver or other dyes and then re-heated. In this picture, the beads are being coated in a tumbler but they may be put into a mesh bag and dyed before being finished

0 - beads being coated for finishing

The finishing can take a coated bead and give it a crystal lustre.

0 - gold beads coated before heating 0 - gold beads after being heated

There is one more quality control process where the beads go over a small mesh and any small beads fall out, and then a mesh the right size so any large beads drop off the end.

0 - beads being checked

0 - final washing

Once finished, they are washed, dried and then they are checked against the standard which is stored in a tube. Here is the manager holding the standard tubes.

0 - factory manager with standard colours

The finished beads are stored in these containers that hold 20kg before being packed for customers.

0 - finished beads

It was a wonderful tour and I learnt such a lot about beads with a real understanding of the complexity of making the beads.   There are 10,000 different types of beads made at this factory and their quality control is great.   By the final shaking process, the waste was minimal.   I now need to look up who supplies Toho beads in the UK because they do not have a UK distributor but do have a European one.  It is possible that UK suppliers buy from the US.    For Toho their market in China is very large, mainly for clothing and the US market for craft beads is huge.   Indonesia and the Far East is a growing market for clothing and Northern Europe for crafting.    It was a wonderful day – the rest of which is in my other blog.

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