Good To Know

The Journey of the Things You Buy


Growing up, did you ever watch episodes of Sesame Street and learn how crayons are made? You watched in fascination as machines mixed melted wax with color, filled molds, and then wrapped perfectly shaped crayons with the iconic Crayola label. But, did you know then that the raw materials for making crayons have a story of their own?

The Journey of the Things You Buy

Like crayons, other things we buy today have a story behind them. Before the finished products are available on store shelves or in warehouses for online purchase, where do the raw materials come from?

Necessities We Take for Granted

Let’s explore some of the common items we purchase without realizing how much work goes into their production. Have you ever thought about all the work that goes into creating electronics, or your custom home?

The Making of a Cell Phone

Technology is powered by precious metals and minerals. Cell phones contain a variety of raw materials, such as:

 

  • Copper
  • Tellurium
  • Iron
  • Aluminum
  • Lead
  • Zinc
  • Tin
  • Nickel
  • Barium
  • Lithium
  • Cobalt
  • Manganese
  • Tungsten

 

Per the Natural History Museum of South Kensington, London, the precious metals used in cell phones are harvested from around the world, including countries such as Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, India, Japan, South Africa, and South Korea.

 

Your phone is encased in plastic, which is made via a process of refining oil, plants, and natural gas. There’s also a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, which is a form of glass that includes a thin layer of indium tin oxide (a metal alloy). Glass itself is a combination of limestone, sand, and soda ash. 

 

All of the raw materials used to produce a phone are mined from the Earth and undergo stages of metamorphosis before being used by phone manufacturers to create the latest model you hold in your hand. 

How Cell Phones are Made: Step by Step

The journey of a phone begins with an idea. The designers brainstorm a plan and what features the phone should have. After that, it goes through several steps.

 

  1. Prototype – Based on the design created by the team, a prototype is created. This is a nonfunctional version of the phone that shows the size and shape. A prototype also shows where external buttons are located, as well as the speaker(s), microphone(s), and camera(s).
  2. Internal Kit – After approving the prototype, engineers get to work on the internal kit of the cell phone. They need to implement the right technology to allow the phone to function as intended. The guts of the phone include the processor, memory, and how everything will display on the LCD screen.
  3. Software – The operating system is installed next, which might be iOS (Apple), or android.
  4. Testing – Once all these components are integrated, the phone has to be tested for functionality and durability. 
  5. Manufacturing – After the phone passes the testing phase, it can be mass-produced, packaged, and shipped to retailers.

 

The majority of the world’s cell phones are manufactured in China, regardless of where they were designed and where they end up being sold.

Building Your Dream Home

These days, it’s common for people to design and build a custom home. After years of searching for the perfect house, sometimes it’s so frustrating it seems the only way to get exactly what you want is to start from scratch.

 

In the past few years, the biggest problem many hopeful homeowners face is supply shortages or delays. After making the initial land purchase, buying a design, and breaking ground, builders have trouble sourcing materials to complete different stages of the build. But what’s the holdup?

Materials Used in a Home Build

No matter what style you’re going for, there are some basic materials used in every home build. The bones of a home include the following:

 

  • Brick
  • Wood
  • Drywall
  • Cement
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Metals

 

And some of those materials are composists, meaning they’re made from a variety of ingredients such as clay, limestone, shale, chalk, and gypsum.

 

Shortages for building materials can be caused by a number of issues. As of 2020, problems stemmed from factory closures and the effects trickled down from there. Labor shortages, whether in manufacturing, shipping, or on the construction side, also cause delays when building a custom home.

 

It’s frustrating to have craftspeople, like the team at Smitty’s Quality Glass, ready and willing to install finishing touches such as custom glass cabinetry, glass shower enclosures, and mirrors, only to be faced with a shortage of materials. Is there anything worse than having a crew ready to go with nothing they can do? You run the risk of losing your place in line, so to say, and having to wait until materials arrive to resume the build.

 

According to the National Association of Home Buildings (NAHB), the majority of US construction supplies are sourced domestically. 

 

Top 5 States Producing Construction Materials

 

  • Texas – Over $7 million worth of materials
  • California – Over $6 million worth of materials
  • Ohio – Over $5 million worth of materials
  • Pennsylvania – Over $4 worth of materials
  • Illinois – Over $3 million worth of materials

 

Although many materials don’t have far to travel to reach your home build site, it’s difficult to keep up with consumer demand.

How Manufacturers are Adapting

In an effort to continue providing goods to the public, manufacturers have had to change the way they operate. Whether it’s automating more tasks due to worker shortages, updating their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, or better communicating lead times, manufacturers are doing their best to adapt to the changing times.

 

The most common effects we’re seeing are delivery delays, higher prices, and an inability to accurately forecast the future. Unfortunately, demand has steadily increased as people take advantage of stimulus payments, and the freedom to “get back to normal” when it comes to shopping.

 

As long as manufacturers do their best to prepare for changes in their niche, they may successfully weather the storm. Guide Technologies shares insight regarding the difference between disruption and change, which you can read about HERE. If manufacturers can diversity where they source materials, their production processes, and how they ship, it can mean consumers have better access to quality goods without too much sticker shock.

 

Essentially, knowing the journey our consumer goods take to get to us can help us be better customers. When we know the work that goes into what we purchase, we can better appreciate the effort it took to get to us.


Samantha hails from Virginia and is a proud wife to a retired Deputy Sheriff and mother to two amazing little boys named Jack & William. A veteran product reviewer; Samantha has been reviewing products for 8 years and offers high quality product reviews with original photography.

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