EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


May 26, 2013

A day on the line changes perception of modern factories


The art of working on the line involves becoming proficient despite its relentless pace. Underwood calls it muscle memory. It’s an automatic reflex, a learned behavior.

Getting there takes time. After all, performing Pitch Three’s 14 steps perfectly in the required 90 seconds or less means taking no more than 6.4 seconds for each step. After a minute and a half, the next job is ready for your attention.

And it’s at Pitch Three where the engine is mounted, various hoses are attached and the driveshaft is seated. As a sign that the driveshaft is properly installed, it gets marked with a Sharpie. Sometimes I marked it horizontally, sometimes vertically, sometimes at an angle and — at least once or twice — with two lines.

It may not sound like a big deal, but I can only imagine a car collector at some Volkswagen show decades from now having points deducted from their score by some overzealous judge because their engine’s driveshaft is marked incorrectly. A note to future judges: It is right. I was just trying to finish the job without stopping the line.

Because it will stop if your job isn’t done correctly.

Once attached, many of the hoses and driveshafts get torqued using an overhead wrench. If each item is torqued correctly — neither overdone or underdone — a sensor beeps and flashes a green light. If it isn’t, a red light flashes. The job cannot proceed until it’s right.

The computer will also know if you’re in danger of running late. If you are, a melody comes on. After 70 seconds, the tempo increases. After two minutes, the line stops.

It’s little surprise that my first time torquing on Pitch Three saw red lights flashing and music playing. Suddenly, I was a teenager in Philly again. I started to sweat. The line couldn’t stop; not because of me.

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