Have you ever wondered what it's like to work in a tape factory? Of course you have. That's why C. Liam Brown decided to interview his friend Greg, who at the time was working in a tape factory.
C. Liam Brown: What kind of tape does your company make?
Greg: Adhesive tape. So, hockey tape, paint tape, packaging tape... I could go on for a few hours.
CLB: What's involved in testing tape?
G: There are five or six standardized tests. There's the ramp one, where you have a ramp with a specified height and angle, and you roll a ball down it onto the sticky side of a piece of tape, and you measure in millimetres how far it rolls along the piece of tape. There's also UV tests, where we stick the tape onto glass or steel, and we expose it to hardcore UV radiation to see what the sun would do to it. They don't let me touch that, though.
There's the holding power test, where you take a piece of tape, attach it onto cardboard or steel, and you hang a one kilogram weight from it, and you wait to see how long before it falls. There's this one where we use a grocery store balance scale. We take out the basket, attach a piece of tape to a steel plate, and attach the plate to the balance. Then we pull on the tape and see how much force it takes to rip the tape off.
CLB: Tell us about the paint tests.
G: Well, I paint the surface, I apply the tape at varying time intervals—ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour, forty-five minutes, an hour. You know, eliminate the variables. And then we take the piece of tape off after a certain amount of time and we see whether there's any residue left on the paint, or whether any of the paint came off.
CLB: Does it usually come off?
G: Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, you know—that's the excitement of it, really.
CLB: This ball you roll down the ramp. Is that a ball bearing?
G: Yes, seven-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. Steel.
CLB: Is it exciting to watch the ball go down? Do you get really excited to see how far it's going to go?
G: Yes, actually, I do. You know what's funny? For a ball that has rolled 30 mm—just over an inch—0.01 newtons of force have been exerted by the tape onto the ball to stop the ball from rolling.
And I actually wrote that out one day when I was testing tape, because I was kind of bored. And that's the actual number [of newtons] for 30 mm. Because you have the angle of the ramp, and you assume it's from rest.
CLB: You're ignoring friction on the ramp, I guess.
G: Yeah, I can't deal with that, man.
CLB: How many times a day do you perform these tests?
G: Probably 230 tests a day, give or take.
CLB: Are your fingers usually sticky at the end of the day?
G: No. We clean everything with MEK. MEK is methyl ethyl ketone. It's not a crazy chemical. It really dries up your hands, but it cleans up your hands really well. So my hands aren't really sticky, they're just dry, if anything.
CLB: What does it smell like?
G: It's a very peculiar smell, it's like—I don't know how toxic it is, but it kind of has a toxic smell to it. I don't know. I can't describe smells. Maybe like pure alcohol.
CLB: How has this changed the way you feel about tape?
G: It's broadened my horizons, really. I have a healthy respect for tape, and the people that make tape, and the people that research tape. And even the people that use tape. Especially the people that use tape.
CLB: The customers.
G: The customers. Except for those fuckers that complain and write letters to our company, and say, "I did this, and then the tape didn't work." But when you read the letter you realize that he's a jackass. I've read these letters—I have to test this tape, and I have to do exactly what he did and see what happens. And obviously when you don't let the paint dry, and you apply it on the wet paint, it's going to stick to the tape.
CLB: Are these people generally wackos?
G: I don't know, I don't know. The ones that I've read, yes.
CLB: What are the people that you work with like?
G: I work with really chill people, actually. You have an old Japanese man who's seven years past retirement and who speaks fondly of his family's Samurai days. And a thirty-five-year-old Slovakian guy who's really cool. And my boss is Greek, and he's a great guy too.
CLB: Do these people really care about tape, like in a personal kind of way?
G: The old Japanese guy, he really digs chemistry. He really digs the scientific method so he gets a kick out of it, because he's the one that produces our new tape, and he's constantly on the research and development side of it. But no, today he told that me that he doesn't like tape itself, but he likes this kind of investigative work, detective work. It's almost like cooking: take a little bit of this out, put a dash of this, a pint of that. Whereas the other two guys, they don't give a fuck about testing tape. They just want to go home to their wives, or the other guy goes home to his roommates. They're not passionate about tape.
CLB: Do you wear a lab coat?
G: Sometimes I do, yeah.
CLB: In case you get tape on you?
G: No, I do when I paint because I don't want to get paint on my clothes.
CLB: Is there anything else about this job that's fascinating to talk about?
G: I really get a sense of pride when I'm rolling the ball down the piece of tape. I'm thinking, "I am making a difference."
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