At a nondescript building deep within the LTO compound in East Avenue, you'll find the Plate Manufacturing Facility, formerly the Plate Making Plant established 51 years ago. 

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

In 1967, the Land Transportation Commission, the precursor of the Land Transportation Office, established the Plate Making Plant. The used machines that were part of post-World War II reparations from Japan; the same, heavy, cast-iron machines that we can see sitting outside in the sun.

With increased vehicle sales, the old facility was unable to keep up with demand, forcing the LTO to begin outsourcing plate production, and eventually closing the plant due to the requirements of the new standards for plates.

But the contract for the supply of outsourced plates eventually encountered legal problems. Whatever the problems may be, the issues forced motorists to use conduction stickers for far longer than expected as a primary means of vehicle identification.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

Since 2014, the place has been sitting idle, but not anymore. The Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Arthur P. Tugade and the LTO have reopened the facility, and it couldn't have come at a more critical time. 

The facility itself is not really remarkable, but it's what's inside that really counts. Within a room is the actual machines provided by the company that won the contract from the Department of Transportation: a joint venture between Trojan Computer Forms Manufacturing Corporation and JH Tonnjes E.A.S.T. GmbH. 

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

They were faced with a tough task: address the backlog of motor vehicle and motorcycle license plates that stretches all the way back to July 2016. The backlog is massive; for 18 months up to December 2017, LTO data quoted by Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante in his speech indicates that they have a requirement of 775,000 pairs of new vehicle plates. Mind you, that doesn't include the 1.7 million pairs of plates they need for motorcycles sold in the same period, bringing the total requirement to around 2,475,000 pairs. And that also doesn't include the plates needed for the cars sold for the first three months of this year.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

The challenge is daunting, to say the least. Which is why the DOTr used a PhP 998.8 million procurement budget to re-establish the manufacturing of the plates in-house at the LTO. Interestingly, instead of going with fully automated production which would have been costly, the winning bidder brought in several manually-operated machines.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

By our count, the room has 7 embossing presses/stamping machines, 5 laminating machines, 6 sticker printers, and 2 machines for quality control. Some would question the manual nature of the plate making machines, but it makes sense: the cost of one fully automated machine could be used for multiple manual units. Also, a solitary automated plate making machine could fail and halt production entirely, defeating the purpose of re-establishing a plate facility.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

Each motor vehicle plate is actually imported from Europe (given that Tonnjes is a German company), and is already pre-cut. When they arrive at the LTO, they're embossed, laminated with the security, and checked. The stickers are produced by the printers which were also part of the contract.

The maximum capacity of the manual system is 1,600 plates per shift. With 7 sets, that puts per-shift production at 11,200 plates for all the presses. The LTO says full production will involve 2 shifts, bumping up maximum daily production at 22,400 plates. 

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

After the production process, each plate is inspected for quality, and the data is cross-checked and matched with the correct vehicle in the LTO database. That could be a time consuming process, given that each plate now has quite a few security features such as an RFID tag (Radio Frequency Identification), LTO logos on the face, micro-etching, and even a QR code.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

All these features are intended to easily and positively identify vehicles. These features could actually be quite convenient in the future; perhaps the most significant one would be doing away with things like the archaic stencilling when you have your vehicle registered, instead they'll just need a QR code reader. 

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

The LTO also said that there is another fully automatic plate machine coming in July 2018, and it has a far greater daily capacity than its manual counterparts. At 12,000 plates per day, it could greatly enhance the maximum production of the LTO. 

There is a catch though: in his speech, LTO Assistant Secretary Edgar Galvante said that the plate facility will not be making plates for motorcycles for the time being. The reason is that there is a proposed bill in the House of Representatives for the motorcycle plates which are of a different size. That's very unusual, especially since the requirement for motorcycle plates within the same 18 month period at 1.7 million pairs is more than double the number of vehicles that need their plates. Those on two wheels will have to wait a bit longer until that's resolved.

A look inside LTO's plate making facility

Given the production data, we can estimate the completion of the deliveries, the LTO can address the backlog of plates since the Administration took over at the end of June 2016. If the facility can produce 22,400 plates per day, and each vehicle requires a pair, it will take a little over 69 working days to produce a pair for the 775,000 vehicles. On the calendar, the production could cover the backlog by the end of July, though distribution will likely take a bit more time. 

Now it's really just a matter of time for many new vehicle owners to be finally rid of their conduction plates, creative as the designs may be. It took a while for the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Office to sort out the issue, but it's better plate than never.