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Friday, August 29, 2014

A Bronx Tale: Visiting G.A.L. Manufacturing Corp. for Manufacturing Day

As we’ve mentioned, today was National Manufacturing Day, a coordinated effort by the manufacturing sector across the country to open production-plant doors to the public in an attempt to display the merits of and opportunities in U.S. industry.

As part of Manufacturing Day festivities in New York City, I had the opportunity to visit G.A.L. Manufacturing Corp., an elevator parts manufacturer in the Bronx, right down the road from Yankee Stadium. About two dozen students from Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School’s pre-engineering, CAD , Science, Electronics Technician and Robotics Technician programs were invited to visit G.A.L.’s factory, courtesy of the efforts of Industrial + Technology Assistance Corp. (ITAC) and Con Edison, which provided the funds to bus the students in from their school.

The students, mostly juniors and seniors, were encouraged by G.A.L. plant manager Longin Kutas to view the plant visit as an opportunity to “broaden their horizons.” He advised them not to focus on the specific work being done on G.A.L.’s New York factory floor, as it might not be the exact career for each of the students who visited. Rather, Kutas tried to reinforce the idea that manufacturing is a big part of what makes the American economy run, and it was a big consideration for these students about to graduate.

Before the plant tour, the students learned a little about G.A.L. The company has been manufacturing elevator parts and components (basically everything except the elevator cab) since it was founded by Herbert Paul Glaser, Jack Abramowitz and Harold Leon in 1927. From its humble beginnings in a brownstone basement, G.A.L. has expanded to capture 98 percent of the New York City elevator components market. As Kutas noted, if you ride in an elevator in New York City, G.A.L. probably had something to do with it.

As the company has expanded, machine tools have advanced and the elevators have changed. Kutas talked about high-tech elevators in office buildings where a computer can sense a card in a passenger’s wallet or purse and travel automatically to the correct floor. There are also Shabbat elevators so that observant Jewish passengers do not have to operate buttons on a day of rest.

After the information session, it was time for the tour. Kutas led the kids to the southern end of the factory, where sheet metal and bar stock undergo lasing, punching, pressing and water-jet cutting. Operating under Six Sigma lean-manufacturing principles, Kutas explained how he’d spent the last five years optimizing his factory layout and processes to achieve efficient workflow. The tour slowly wound toward the north end of the factory, as we saw buttons, door controls, operating panels, roller guides, counterweights and cams take form from raw materials.

Machinists, machine operators and other technicians showed the students exactly what process they were responsible for, from the laser cutter operator to the electricians to the packing folks. They revealed the different operations performed at each step of the manufacturing. The tour presented a holistic view of just one manufacturing business  — one of 6,000 manufacturers in the New York City metro area.

After the tour, Sara Garretson of ITAC , a nonprofit organization that helps small and medium-sized New York City manufacturing and technology companies do business in the city, reminded the kids of the stakes of industry: 600,000 unfilled jobs due to the skills gap, with industry analysts predicting 5 million more in the coming five years. The students all received G.A.L. hats, applauded their hosts and filed out.

I left G.A.L.’s facility and walked to a nearby subway station, where an elevator booth whisked passengers below ground. The top of the booth was made of glass, allowing me to view into the elevator’s inner workings. Sure enough, the big metal pulleys operating a belt to open and close the elevator doors safely were the same door controls I had just seen assembled not a half-mile away.

Events like Manufacturing Day always make me aware, up close and personal, of the labor, care and precision that go into making all of the conveniences of modern life around us.

Did you have a Manufacturing Day experience in your part of the country? Please tell us about it in the comments!

Brian Lane


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