Toy Industry Workers

Taking a toy from the idea stage to the store shelf is a long and complex operation, sometimes requiring a year or two or even longer. Ideas for new toys or games may come from a variety of sources. In large companies, the marketing department and the research and development department review the types of toys that are currently selling well, and they devise new toys to meet the perceived demand. Companies also get ideas from professional inventors, freelance designers, and other people, including children, who write to them describing new toys they would like to see made.

Toy companies consider ideas for production that they sometimes end up scrapping. A toy company has two main considerations in deciding whether to produce a toy: the degree of interest children (or adults) might have in playing with the toy and whether the company can manufacture it profitably.

A toy must be fun to play with, but there are measures of a toy's worth other than amusement. Some toys are designed to be educational, develop motor skills, excite imagination and curiosity about the world, or help children learn ways of expressing themselves.

Often manufacturers test new ideas to determine their appeal to children. Model makers create prototypes of new toys. Marketing researchers in the company coordinate sessions during which groups of children play with prototype toys. If the children in the test group enjoy a toy and return to play with it more than a few times, the toy has passed a major milestone.

The company also has to ask other important questions: Is the toy safe and durable? Is it similar to other toys on the market? Is there potential for a large number of buyers? Can the toy be mass-produced at a low enough cost per toy to ensure a profit? Such questions are usually the responsibility of research and development workers, who draw up detailed designs for new toys, determine materials to be used, and devise methods to manufacture the toy economically. After the research and development employees have completed their work, the project is passed on to engineers who start production.

Electronic toys, video games, and computer games have skyrocketed in popularity in the past decade. The people who develop them include computer engineers, technicians, game designers, and software programmers. Technical development engineers work on toys that involve advanced mechanical or acoustical technology. Plastics engineers work on plans for plastic toys. They design tools and molds for making plastic toy parts, and they determine the type of molding process and plastic that are best for the job. Plastics engineers who work for large firms may design and build 150 or more new molds each year.

To determine the best way to manufacture a toy, manufacturing engineers study the blueprints for the new product and identify necessary machinery. They may decide that the company can modify equipment it already has, or they may recommend purchasing new machinery. Throughout the engineering process, it is important to find ways to minimize production costs while still maintaining quality.

After selecting the equipment for production, industrial engineers design the operations of manufacturing: the layout of the plant, the time each step in the process should take, the number of workers needed, the ways to measure performance, and other detailed factors. Next, the engineers teach supervisors and assembly workers how to operate the machinery and assemble the new toy. They inform shift supervisors the rate of production the company expects. Industrial engineers also might be responsible for designing the process of packaging and shipping the completed toys.

As toys are being built on the assembly line, quality control engineers inspect them for safety and durability. Most toy companies adhere to the quality standards outlined in ASTM F963, a set of voluntary guidelines the toy industry has developed for itself. The toy industry is also monitored by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and must adhere to various federal laws and standards that cover the safety of toys under normal use and any foreseeable misuse or abuse.

Finally, getting the toys from the factory to the store shelf is the responsibility of sales and merchandising workers. These employees stay in contact with toy stores and retail outlets and arrange for toy displays and in-store product promotions.

Factory workers on assembly lines mass-produce practically all toys and games. The manufacturing processes can be as unique as the toys themselves. Workers first cast pieces of plastic toys in injection molds and then assemble them. They machine, assemble, and finish or paint wooden and metal toys. They make board games employing many of the same printing and binding processes used for books. They print the playing surface on a piece of paper, glue it to a piece of cardboard of the proper size, and tape the two halves of the board together with bookbinding equipment.

Toy assemblers put together various plastic, wood, metal, and fabric pieces to complete toys. They may sit at a conveyor belt or workbench, where they use small power tools or hand tools, such as pliers and hammers, to fasten the pieces together. Other toy assemblers operate larger machines such as drill presses, reamers, flanging presses, and punch presses. On toys such as wagons that are made on assembly lines, assemblers may do only a single task, such as attaching axles or tires. Other toys may be assembled entirely by one person; for instance, one person at one station on an assembly line may attach the heads, arms, and legs of action figures.

The manufacture of dolls provides a good example of the various manual and mechanical operations that can go into the making of a single toy. Plastic doll mold fillers make the head, torso, arms, and legs of the doll in plastic-injection molds. Other workers cure and trim the molded parts and send them off on a conveyor belt. The doll's head may go to a rooter operator, who operates a large machine that roots or stitches a specific quantity of synthetic hair onto the head. After attaching the hair in the form of a wig, a doll wigs hackler combs and softens synthetic hair by pulling it through a hackle, which is a combing tool with projecting bristles or teeth. Then, a hair finisher sets the hair in the specified style by combing, brushing, and cutting. A toy assembler puts together the doll's parts, and a hand finisher completes the doll by dressing it in clothes and shoes. An inspector examines the completed doll to make sure it meets the original specifications and then sends it on for packaging and shipment.

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