We want to try and shed some light on entire process of how these pins get made. A lot of labor goes into making your pins and they go through multiple different steps on their journey to completion. Greg(owner) got to spend a week at the factory overseas seeing all of it in person to really appreciate and document the process.
Once a digital proof is approved, they cut the mold for our design. The mold is a heavy metal cylinder that they use a CNC machine to cut your artwork into. These weigh about 15 lbs each and are dense so they can hold up to the pressure needed for stamping the metal over and over again.
Iron based pins and Zinc Alloy die cut pins are done in completely different ways after the mold has been made.
Iron based pins
They will cut out thin pieces of iron metal from larger iron sheets to use to stamp the designs into that are a little wider than the specific design. They put the mold into the machine and stamp rows of pins into the thin sheets. If you have a back stamp, they will flip over the sheets and punch the back stamp next, or it goes to get punched out.
Next they will take a die that has been cut to the exact shape of your design into another machine and “punch” your designs out from the sheets. This takes some crazy skills to line up and do and leaves the final raw metal shapes to be inked or plated.
They put the pins into a machine to help smooth out the shapes from the cutting and next they will add on the backing posts.
Zinc Alloy pins/ Die-Cut pins
Instead of using the sheets of iron, for zinc alloy based pins(complex shapes/cut outs), they will melt down blocks of zinc alloy metal in a molten state and they cast them into the molds. It’s hard to explain and crazy to watch happen. Because of the complex shapes used for zinc alloy, they often have to use hand tools to get in there and file out as much as they can. The areas they can’t get to are what remains as recessed metal
Soft enamel will get plated before going to inking, but hard enamel get inked prior to plating. For larger runs or some coloring, we will use coloring machines. The artists mark out the zones for the machine and it goes through and fills the inks. For some more complex coloring with very tiny spots that really needs a lot of fine details, they will color them by hand. We currently do all hard enamel by hand. The people in this department are some of the best paid at the factory and deservingly so.
We use electro-plating for all of pins except for pantone dyed or black dye pins. Those are done in more of a painting style and sprayed vs dipped into a tank. The pins get strung up on pieces of wire and dipped into the tanks for the specific metal we want. Some stay in for maybe 30 seconds like Gold and other can spend a few minutes in there. Once they have been plated, they head back to finish up the final steps.
Soft enamel are plated first and then will be inked, but hard enamel get inked first, plated and then ground down to be flat on a buffing wheel. This is done by hand, one at a time.
The final stage for the pins is packaging. If no packaging has been selected, they are put into individual zip lock baggies, but if we have chosen to use backing cards, the team will apply them all, put them in bags and they get packed up and ready to ship out the door.
FAQs about the factory working conditions
• The employees work 8am-4pm and get an hour lunch break. I was there for break a few days and everyone was having tea, on their phones, chilling out on couches and eating.
• The lowest paid are still paid above industry standard and make what would be equal to “living wage” in the states, so more than what would be min wage.
• Outside of management(2 males/1 female), the highest paid workers are the women in the inking department and the highest paid worker is the woman who mixes the inks for every job..go ladies! 🙂
• The team consists of about 40 people at the shop and 4 of us (Greg, Alex, Tessa and Vicki) in the states.
• Each department is in their own section of the factory in different rooms and everything is very well ventilated and people wear masks or gloves if needed. A pin factory at its core is essentially a machine shop.
• This is not a sweat shop at all and we have done everything on our end to make sure everyone is paid above the industry standards and are in positive working conditions.