Notes from the Assembly Line

This Monday I woke up early, checked my email, and found out that our production completion was a week ahead of schedule (wahoo!). This meant I needed to head to the factory ASAP to do a final quality control inspection. I already had a flight booked to Hong Kong for the following week, so I checked online to see if I could get an earlier flight. Indeed, the only flight option that was even remotely affordable was leaving in 4 hours. So I booked the flight, threw some clothes in a bag and raced to the airport. And since I booked the flight that morning, it should have been no surprise that I was in the very last row of the airplane.

Luckily, the seat next to me was empty, but one seat over was this very strange looking man. Well, actually, I’m not sure what he looked like because he was wearing the blue airline blanket over his head and body like a mummy. As soon as the plane took off, the strange robed man proceeded to lay out across the entire row, his socks practically in my lap. Even after a good 45 minutes of the worst turbulence I’ve ever encountered, this man still would not move. How come he gets to lay down and not me? Don’t ladies typically get the right of way in this scenario? About halfway through the 14-hour flight, the man finally got up to use the restroom. Now was my chance! I sprawled out across the row, double blankets and pillows in place. He returned with a scowl, nudged me and said, “Hey, I was sleeping.” So I retorted, “Yeah, and now it’s MY turn!” He relented, and I lay there, unable to sleep, wondering how many hours had passed since my last dose of Dramamine.

Seven hours later, the plane landed at Hong Kong airport. I wandered through immigration like a zombie, and was proud of myself for figuring out how to take the train to my hotel instead of a taxi. The only thing on TV to watch in English was “Con Air,” so I watched that, trying not to think about how much my plane mate resembled “Cyrus the Virus.”

Dennis, my brilliant engineer contact from the factory, picked me up from my hotel the next morning to escort me to the final assembly check. The trip to the factory is long. A ninety minute cab ride, followed by long lines at the immigration portal, followed by another ninety minute cab ride. Sometimes I think Dennis pretends to know less English than he does to avoid my annoying small talk. Nevertheless, I ascertained that he’s been married for 10 years, no plans for kids, heading to Japan with his wife for Chinese New Years and likes photography. When we finally arrived at the factory, my stomach was growling. Dennis gave me a bottle of water. I wished it was a bottle of cookie dough.

IMG_1179IMG_1176IMG_1178IMG_1180We headed upstairs to check out the assembly line. And there is was: GoldieBlox. Thousands of wheels getting Velcro-glued on by hand. Enormous bags of dolphins, sloths and dogs, getting cleaned and inspected, one-by-one, and sealed into little plastic baggies. I stood there for a moment in an absolute daze, kind of like a euphoria mixed with disbelief. This is really happening. It was absolutely surreal.

Dennis brought me the first toy off the assembly line to inspect. I took all the pieces out of their baggies – they were all there and they all looked perfect. I flipped through the book – all the pages were there in the right order. Then, I started to play with the toy. I stuck an axle into the pegboard hole and…oh no. My heart sank. It was too tight. My mind started racing. I looked to Dennis in despair. He said, “Oh yes, board too tight.”

“WELL THEN WHAT DO WE DOOOOO??” I screamed (in my head). We had gone back and forth seven times to get this board right. I was in a state of shock. Then, Dennis brought out a bag of axles from his desk and told me to try one. It fit perfectly. Turns out, the axles differ in diameter slightly, and I had pulled a thick one. We measured the axles with calipers and found that they were all between 0.598mm – 0.605mm. Anything 0.603mm or greater would be too tight. Dennis assured me he could go back through all the axles and discard any that were 6.03mm or greater. Problem solved. Oh man am I happy I booked that earlier flight! PHEW!

By the time I was leaving the factory to go back to my hotel, all the workers were hanging outside, changed into their regular clothes. They got to leave work early that day for a big company dinner party. They all looked really happy. It made me feel good. I headed back to my hotel solo, via taxi and train, with hours to reflect on this amazing journey of GoldieBlox. We are off to a good start. Now, I wonder who’s gonna sit next to me on my plane ride back?

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About debrasterling

Debbie Glasband is a jane of all trades – product designer, writer, illustrator, brand strategist and marketer. She’s (one of the too few) women who graduated with an Engineering degree from Stanford in 2005. Since then, she’s done branding consulting for T-Mobile, Microsoft, Organic Valley and the New York Knicks. In the nonprofit world, she volunteered in rural India for 6 months and then launched “I Want a Goat,”one of the first viral fundraising campaigns. Her passion? Utilizing the power of branding, design and humor to make real change in people’s lives. Her favorite toy growing up? Playmobil.

8 thoughts on “Notes from the Assembly Line

    • My exact thought too..I always TRY to buy US made products. I was excited to see this product when a friend of mine shared the video on FB earlier this week so I have been watching for developments. I am a structural engineer who graduated from Clarkson University in 1978 and I am always encouraging young women (and men) to consider a career in engineering. This is a great way to start the encouragement even earlier. However, I am very disappointed to see that they are not being produced in the US.

  1. I’m a Purdue Structural engineering graduate and currently a quality manager for major infrastructure projects and living in Qatar. The factory should have had the axles that were too large already discarded BEFORE you, the customer, arrived to do an inspection. I’d consider having a close look at their quality management system.

    I also tell everyone I know to major in engineering, then go do whatever you want after that. Debbie, you’re a testament that the strategy works. I’m going to be buying LOTS of the Goldie Blox kits for my daughter, all her friends, and all her cousins. That is, just as soon as I figure out a strategy for getting this great product to Qatar!

    • Hi Charity,

      You are totally right about the axles…we are learning so much as we go. Won’t make that mistake again twice 😉

      Thanks so much for your message and kind words. Let’s get Goldie to Qatar!!

  2. I’m so excited to learn about your product! I just pre-ordered one for my 5 year old daughter and I think she’s going to LOVE it! I’ll be buying one for every birthday party we go to from now on! 🙂

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