Parts are repetitive, so much so that you develop a speed that seems improbable, making best use of each second, no wasted motions, no need to think. Other parts are troubleshooting — the familiar obstacles that produce the same bumps in the road every day. You know how to deal with this, just a hiccup from the normal flow. Other parts of the work make you stop and think. What order should this go in? How many of which go where?
Working in customer service, wired to a computer, fielding phone calls and emails — my tasks can nonetheless be described just like those in production — repetitive, troubleshooting and challenging. This familiarity did not make my visit to the production floor any easier. In fact, the experience was a lot like that first time driving on the interstate: You think you have the basics down, and you’ve watched a few cars go by on the on-ramp, but you don’t get the full effect until you hit the gas and join the traffic.
It’s hard not to be impressed by sewing machines, the first mini-factories that popped out of hidden compartments beneath inconspicuous tables. Then to see their distant relations blown up to industrial proportions with robotic arms of all sizes dancing to the noisy hum and clatter, I was impressed. In a factory, everything is there for a reason and is, at least in that way, “customized” to the job. Here was no different, every table and work station arranged around the sewing machines for maximum effect.
Taking a closer look at the different work stations, I saw the stand that is used to hoop hats before they are embroidered, and I had to chirp. It was a custom-made piece of furniture, sawed and sanded to serve as a perfect mount for the unwieldy jaws of the hat hoops. There were plastic cups filled with fasteners and clips serving alongside the high-tech machines. But everything had its place, and its purpose, and holding it all together, the most fluid of the moving parts on the floor — were the production teams.
The people created these systems, made the machines work. Make the machines work. Divided into “pods”, production workers are roving problem solvers and facilitators, each person committed to keeping the line moving and the products perfect. During my visit, I was struck by the way everyone had their own, very efficient way of folding a shirt, taping a box, loading a machine… each task requiring a measure of repetition, troubleshooting and problem solving. But aside from appreciating the complexity and the efficiency, I was pretty much lost.
I got the feeling that all my ridiculous fumbling was providing them with plenty of amusement. And nothing makes me want to try harder than fear of failure. So I tried it all, agonizing over the tasks they seemed to master effortlessly.
Trying to give me a taste of the action, Veeda, Peaches, Linda and Jeff were patient with a very nervous pupil. I got the feeling that all my ridiculous fumbling was providing them with plenty of amusement. And nothing makes me want to try harder than fear of failure. So I tried it all, agonizing over the tasks they seemed to master effortlessly. No, I can’t really see where that thread ended and the other began. No, I really don’t know how to make that sit straight on the machine. No, I’m not at all comfortable with pulling this stray thread out of the embroidery.
After an hour or so, I forgot about the machines entirely. Like the orders coming in, the machines just presented more tasks. Routine start-up and mounting of garments, starting with the delivery from the warehouse to the hoopers and the embroiderers was obviously the practiced dance — it went fast. Then came the everyday, or rather, every hour tasks of changing a bobitt or adjusting thread colors within an order. They slowed down a little to show me the steps, even let me thread the machine and program the run. It was clear that I was the weakest link.
It became clear by the end of my shift that there is no automation for 90 percent of what must go on with each order. The embroidery machines are amazing, but they just sit there when there’s no one to tend to them. To be efficient and successful, the production workers are constantly jumping from job to job. Everyone shares the burden of the work — keeping the Queensboro engine running and making our customers happy.
Ron Hasson is a former newspaper journalist and current Customer Service Representative at Queensboro. Since leaving newswriting, he has penned and produced five original plays for the Wilmington, N.C., stage and is active in acting and directing as well.