A machine at a chocolate factoryA machine at a chocolate factory The word “industry” describes an activity that produces the goods or services that people need or want. Industries fall into three groups. Primary industries are those that extract or grow raw materials, such as mining, fishing, farming and forestry. Secondary industries are manufacturing industries, which turn the raw materials into products such as cars, matches, books, pharmaceuticals (producing drugs for use in medicine) and buildings. Tertiary industries are service industries, which provide services for people. These industries include transport, shops, healthcare, banking, education, leisure and tourism.


The world's major mineral depositsThe world's major mineral depositsThe Earth contains many minerals that are vital to us today. Minerals are non-living substances such as rocks and metals found naturally in the Earth’s crust. Some metals, such as gold, can be found at the surface, but others are buried deep in the ground and have to be mined.

An opencast iron ore mineAn opencast iron ore mineMetals found near the surface, such as platinum, tin and uranium, are mined by the opencast method. Huge excavators cut away the surface rock and dig out the ore. In sub-surface mining, which is often necessary for metals such as silver, gold, lead and zinc, tunnels and shafts are dug deep into the Earth. First, geologists determine where the metals are. They carry out surveys of the rock layers beneath the surface, and also measure the magnetism of the rocks and minerals. This is because the magnetic field is stronger in rocks that contain metals such as iron, nickel and cobalt.

An opencast copper mineAn opencast copper mine

Smelting iron in a foundrySmelting iron in a foundryClick to play video


Some metals have to be extracted from the rock, or ore, in which they are found. The process used is called smelting. The rock is heated to a high temperature so that the metal melts and runs out. Iron is smelted from its ore in a blast furnace and mixed with coke and limestone. To make steel, the molten iron is poured into a steel converter. Oxygen burns off impurities, including most of the carbon, to create steel.

Inside a steel millInside a steel millDifferent types of steel can be made by adding other metals. With the addition of chromium or nickel, for example, stainless steel is produced. This is resistant to rust and water stains, making it a popular choice for sinks and cutlery. Titanium and vanadium steels resist very high temperatures without melting.



In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the development of new machinery radically changed the way that manufacturing was carried out. This period of change is known as the Industrial Revolution. It began in the UK and spread across Europe and to the USA. The new machines were too big for homes or workshops so manufacturing moved to larger buildings called factories.

Robots build cars in a factoryRobots build cars in a factoryToday, in many manufacturing industries around the world, machines are used instead of people to make goods. Highly automated industries, as they are called, are using more and more specialized equipment such as electronic technology and industrial robots to increase productivity. This has been partly responsible for increasing unemployment in certain countries. During the last part of the 20th century, Japan and other East Asian countries have developed highly automated industries, including electronics, computers and cars.

A traditional glass blowerA traditional glass blowerHandicrafts are also part of the manufacturing, or secondary, sector. In wealthier nations, the rise in the number of machine-made products on offer has also led to a rise in respect for quality handmade products. Handicrafts such as hand-woven carpets, pottery, furniture, quilts and jewellery can sell for high prices. Small manufacturing businesses conducted from home or small workshops are called cottage industries.

A shopping mall, Toronto, CanadaA shopping mall, Toronto, Canada


Wealthy and highly developed countries tend to have a large part of their population employed in service industries. For example, in the UK, 78% of the workforce is employed in services, such as finance, entertainment, healthcare, tourism and retail (shops). This is in contrast to the world's poorest countries, where the majority of people are employed in primary industries such as agriculture and fishing.

 Consultant: Lloyd Jenkins

See also in Geography

See also in Science

See also in Technology

China is the top manufacturing country in the world by output, a title held by the USA for over 100 years until 2010.

The largest building in the world by volume is the Boeing Everett factory in Washington, USA. It is also the world’s largest factory. It is where aeroplanes such as Boeing 747s and the 787 Dreamliner are assembled.

The world’s largest producer of mobile phones is currently Samsung, based in South Korea. They sell more than 280 million handsets per year.

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