The reception room that doubles as a meeting room was lined with shelves filled with boxes and containers of toys, mainly building blocks and toy cars. We sat around a table where one of the department managers showed us the company's main products and how they work. Then we took a tour of the factory itself. The first thing we saw were palettes stacked to the ceiling with bags labeled "ABS", which we presumed was the material to make the plastic bodies of Daesung numerous toys. Then we saw the press machines and the other large industrial equipment that made these toys. I noticed that most of the machines had technicians who performed many of the key tasks by hand, as well as checked the quality of the products coming out. The manufacturing line seemed simple enough--spinning things, putting things into machines, taking them out, moving them, assembling them and cleaning them up for final packaging.
What was most noticeable was the fact that many of the employees were physically disabled. In addition to its industry-leading toys, this employment policy has made Daesung quite famous and the subject of considerable media spotlight. After touring the factory, we finished the day in the development room where some university students were getting some hands-on experience as design interns. We actually had a chance to assemble some toys, although it was pretty simple work consisting of hammering some hats onto doll heads. The hats appeared to be fire helmets, so I guess these parts were bound for Daesung's famed line of toy fire trucks.
Daesung remains successful because the charm of toys is almost visceral. Even in this digital age there is a great attraction of a toy that can be pushed on the floor with a zip. For 40 years Daesung has developed a line of toys that now includes "plastic friction" toy cars. Friction toys have a gear system that is similar to that of real cars that connects the wheels to an axle and gears that make the wheels turn smooth but with quite a bit of force. Daesung's plastic friction toy cars include perennial best sellers such as the fire truck, excavator and police truck along with almost 40 others. Designed for children between the ages of two and four, every part of the toy car is manual other than the speakers that play children's songs. The toys are designed to be manipulated by hand for a reason: in an age where many children are given a phone or a tablet computer to occupy themselves with games or videos, these manual toys allow children to run their imaginations wild while learning manual dexterity and coordination.
Daesung Toys was founded in 1974 as a toy store on an alley street in Busan. The company began manufacturing its own toys in 1980. At this time Busan was the center of Korea's plastic toy industry with over 20 manufacturers, but Daesung's quality and unique products made it an early export leader. These competitive capabilities allowed Daesung to survive the onslaught of cheap Chinese toys in the 1990s. Today, Daesung Toys employees over 60 expert technicians and workers, many of whom are, as mentioned above, disabled workers with often decades of experience. The skill and dedication of Daesung's employees allows the company to export over 60% of its production to very competitive markets in the United States and Europe.
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