YKK Corp. of America is donating supplies to teams competing in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 12 at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, where teams from around the country will design a complex solution to a simple task.
The Marietta headquarters of YKK has been housed in the Parkway Center building off Franklin Road since 2001. The office oversees operations in North and Central America, down to Colombia.
“As a company that values constant innovation and finding creative uses for everyday products, YKK is thrilled to partner with the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest,” said Alex Gregory, president and CEO of YKK.
Gregory said the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is both a fun and educational competition using simple and complex machinery, like wheels, gears, rods and balls.
The challenge is to perform a minimum of 20 steps to complete an overall task, such as hammering a nail, inflating a balloon and watering a plant.
The contest is inspired by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, sculptor, inventor and author Rube Goldberg, who illustrated overly complex humorous contraptions. Goldberg died in 1970 at the age of 87.
Gregory, who worked with his father at a cotton mill in Eatonton before graduating from Georgia Tech, has also been invited to judge this year’s college-level entries.
“I want to be pleasantly surprised. … I want it to be something I have not even thought of,” Gregory said after thumbing through 19 pages of judge guidelines, including a description of the “laugh barometer.”
The first competition was developed in 1949 by two engineering fraternities at Purdue University as part of the Engineer’s Ball.
The local contest died out after five years, but in 1988 the first national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was launched, which expanded to include high school students in 1996.
“I can’t wait to see what zany Rube-inspired madness the kids come up with at this year’s competitions,” said Jennifer George, the granddaughter of the late Rube Goldberg.
YKK revolutionizes the zipper
Founded in downtown Tokyo in 1934, YKK first entered the United States as a zipper distributor in 1960. The company now employs 1,157 people in Georgia, manufacturing a wide variety of fastening products, such as hook and loop fasteners, as well as snaps and buttons.
Gregory, a textile engineer, started with YKK at the 2.5 million-square-foot factory in Macon as part of the first group hired in 1973. The company purposefully built near the Savannah port and now exports to 57 different countries, he said.
“When people think of zippers around the world, we like them to think of YKK,” Gregory said, highlighting the quality and innovation of zipper product lines that are air-tight or water-tight, heat and fire resistant, ECO-friendly and abrasion resistant.
Starting first in apparel, YKK had to expand into other markets such as luggage and sporting goods, as well as the automotive and medical industries, because “more than 98 percent of apparel is now imported,” Gregory said.
Even though most clothes are made overseas, Gregory said the apparel brands still want zippers designed in the United States since the final products will be marketed to Americans.
“There has been a lot of pressure to keep the price of apparel down,” Gregory said. “But, there is a lot of product development going on right here.”
Another change in the field has been the “speed to market,” he said. Companies want products designed and produced quickly.
A few years ago, the design process would take six weeks, with standard colors and options, Gregory said. Now, within a few hours, a designer manipulates a computer software program to form a digital model.
That model is sent to a robot to create a three-dimensional solid object of practically any shape, otherwise called a 3D print. The now tangible object can be sent to a YKK client right away, Gregory said.
YKK donates zippers, encourages Georgia’s students
When the announcement was made two months ago that this year’s Rube Goldberg Machine Contest would be designed around zippers, YKK jumped at the chance to support the students competing in the annual event, which was recently featured on “CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.”
Gregory said his first inclination was to support a Georgia team, but there were no local teams scheduled to compete.
“We were very dismayed to see no high school or college here involved,” Gregory said.
Without a team to sponsor, YKK decided to donate free zipper kits to any registered team. So far the company has shipped 22 kits to multiple states, including Alaska.
“I cannot imagine a better company to partner with on this endeavor as YKK’s products are in the closet of virtually every American and, I dare say, the world beyond,” said Jennifer George.
Gregory said he hopes YKK’s involvement will inspire science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students, especially in Georgia, to join next year’s competition.
“If even one (Georgia) team participates next year, it will be well worth it,” Gregory said.