007: Reflections on Our Trip to Industry City

The field trip to Industry City covered three locations: Lights Up,  MakerBot, and Eyebeam.

I missed the optional stop at Lights Up due to a preceding class and lab meeting, and I am super disappointed because I was not into Makerbot at all. That stop seemed more focused around the labor needs of the company than around teaching us anything about manufacturing or R&D. Since we were not allowed on the R&D floor — despite super aggressive NDAs the second we arrived — and since the parts of the machines are created elsewhere, all that really occurs at the factory is assembly and testing. With most of the lines not running, that meant we got to see the testing farm and not much else.

I wish we had gotten a tour from people other than the VP of Operations; I would have liked to hear what the employees — engineers and floor workers — had to say about the work they do every day instead of discussions of "lean" work, which I am pretty certain is a word management uses when they want to squeeze everything they can out of their team. For instance, the suggestion wall of which our guide was very proud strikes me as the kind of thing management institutes and labor mocks. These impressions may not have been correct, but since we didn't get to talk to any workers, I can only elaborate from my own experiences.

I also noticed that the racial makeup on the floor and the racial makeup in the office were very, very different, and I wonder what Makerbot is doing about it. If the insights of floor workers are useful enough for a monthly suggestion contest, surely they are useful enough for some of those workers to be trained and promoted to the cushy side of the glass wall — the side where I assume you are not hired and laid off in three-month cycles.

It is possible, even probable, that the Makerbot factory is not unlike most of the other factories that make the things I have at home; it is probably much nicer than many offshore facilities. Yet it makes it viscerally obvious why unions and frankly has me hoping the nozzle-testing farm bots are plotting their own small robo-rebellion.

In contrast, the visit to Eyebeam was super fun. Though I am familiar with the organization and seem to know a lot of people who were once fellows, I had been neither to the Brooklyn nor Chelsea locations. It was cool to see the different works people were creating — especially the Afro-Futurism corner and the Grumpy Cat dot experiments — but what I really loved was seeing the wood shop and the Fab Lab. The latter especially has me strongly considering applying for a fellowship once they are relaunched.

I am excited to see how the stops at the Navy Yard contrast with Industry city.