HUTCHINSON, MINN. - Since the first roll of Scotch tape came off the assembly line in 1947, 3M's Hutchinson factory has made enough tape to stretch from Earth to Mars and then some.

Every year the massive plant produces nearly 12 million miles of tape — an average of 22 miles per minute — as it satisfies society's need to keep stuff stuck together.

The 1.4 million-square-foot factory celebrates 75 years in operation this year as it remains the center for 3M's globally recognized Scotch brand of tapes and a host of other products.

"Over the last 75 years, 3M Hutchinson has played an important role in the company's success," said plant manager Angie Byars.

Rolls of the translucent adhesives were spinning onto dispensers at dizzying speeds in mid-August for back-to-school shopping season, which gives 3M's $6 billion consumer business an annual boost.

"This is our biggest time, because we're making product for back to school and the holidays," Byars said. "We're getting all that inventory ready to go."

Painter's tape was being rolled out by the ton as well. Production of the signature blue rolls had to expand to keep up with a surge in home improvement projects during the pandemic.

"There's still strong demand for painter's tape," Byars said.

Robots, conveyor belts and specialized machinery dot the landscape inside the factory, which has an enclosed space equal to 25 football fields. Despite a high level of automation, the plant remains Hutchinson's largest employer with 1,600 workers.

"We used to have lots of people standing on lines, packing tape, closing boxes and putting them on the pallet — that was all manual," said Dave Hansen, the plant's manufacturing manager. "That workforce has evolved, and they're now expected to work with some high-tech equipment."

Tape, and a range of other adhesives for industrial use, are the factory's focal point, but the plant also makes some Post-it products and Filtrete air filters, another in-demand product during the pandemic.

About 30% of the tape made in Hutchinson — over 3 million miles annually — is shipped to other locations to be cut and packaged in local languages, Byars said.

Hansen has worked at the plant for 30 years. As products are developed and processes improve, no two days are the same, he said.

"I've seen almost all of it in one job or another, but it's never gotten old," he said. "Every day we're working on experiments to make those products of the future."

Rolling expansions

The sprawling campus started as a government-owned hemp rope plant used during World War II. When 3M moved in, it was a 10,000-square-foot building with 10 employees.

By the end of the 1970s the site encompassed 90 acres and employed 2,000 people.

After spurts of major growth and additions, the plant lost a big part of its identity when 3M spun off Imation in the 1990s. A wall of Scotch-brand VHS tapes in Hutchinson still pays homage to the days of producing magnetic data storage.

"It was an impressive operation," Hansen said. "We took some of what we learned there and incorporated it into new products."

3M quickly filled that space with film production to meet demand in the auto, building and electronics markets. Products include optical films used in cellphones and window films that block UV light.

"We are involved in inventing products today that will be in the next phone in two years," Hansen said.

The last major expansion at the plant came in 2005, when the plant's north and south buildings were physically linked.

The Hutchinson plant has run entirely on renewable energy since August 2021, 3M said, and sends no waste to landfills.

At the end last year, Maplewood-based 3M operated 61 factories in 29 states plus another 89 facilities in 30 countries worldwide.

"We appreciate the valuable, hard work of past and current employees to manufacture products that are used in businesses and homes around the world," Byars said.

What's made here?

  • Scotch tapes
  • Post-it flags
  • Double-coated tapes
  • Specialty tapes
  • Fluted elastic for diapers
  • Desk dispensers
  • Lint-roller film
  • Nexcare first-aid tapes
  • ScotchBlue painter's tape
  • Electrical tapes
  • Vinyl Masking tapes
  • Command strips
  • Optical film products
  • Window films
  • Nexcare bandages
  • Anti-graffiti films
  • Laminating adhesives
  • Aerospace protection tapes
  • Filter media/Filtrete filters