You’re bobbing in the ocean while wearing a bright-yellow life vest, trying to scramble into an inflatable raft.
It seems like a harrowing ordeal, but for employees at EAM Worldwide, it’s more like a field trip.
Actually, it’s a field test — of the products the Hialeah-based company’s clients hope they’ll never have to use.
Working out of a 65,000-square foot warehouse in the city’s southeast corner, EAM Worldwide has designed, manufactured and field-tested airline survival gear for 60 years. The company is only one of a handful around the world that builds inflatable life vests and rafts for airplanes. A staff of 194 employees also churns out customized survival kits, slaps on electronic tracking tags, and repairs safety gear for mainly aviation but also some marine use.
The life vests start off as rolls of tough yellow fabric that’s both flame and water resistant. After each batch is tested for quality, the approved rolls get cut by machines into squares. The squares get fed by hand into another machine that cuts the hole for a person’s head to go through.
Another person feeds it though a silk screen machine that prints instructions on the vest, which then passes into the next room, where it gets an RFID tag. RFID stands for “radio-frequency identification” and allows both EAM and its customers keep track of where and how old each product is.
After being outfitted with an inflation tube and sealed by heat, the vests pass into another room where about a dozen ladies hand-sew the straps which wrap around the wearer’s body to keep the vest on.
Then: more testing.
Every vest gets inflated and left overnight to check for holes. The vests also pass through an inspector who examines each one, scans its electronic tag, and hand-stamps an approval mark onto it.
EAM Worldwide manufactures 300,000 vests a year and makes up the bulk of the company’s business, but inflatable life rafts are also a big part of the company’s bottom line.
Employees crank out a completed life jacket in 24 minutes. Life rafts, however, can take up to 14 days to complete.
Eloy Leal, the plant’s director of operations and engineering and a Florida International University grad, stood among rafts in various stages of completion.
“This is a lot more manual,” explained Leal, who lives in Cooper City. “Everything here is done by hand.”
The rafts, which can measure up to 17 feet wide and fit more than 50 people, get glued together by hand and each is tested inside the factory, out at sea, or in rented swimming pools. The huge size of the rafts means the production floor can get cramped, so EAM is looking to expand its warehouse or move to a bigger location.
The company has come a long way since Samuel Oroshnik first opened shop in 1952 on Northwest 25th Street and South Le Jeune Road in Miami. With only a high school degree, he worked emptying airplane honey buckets (the bathroom buckets) from military airplanes after WWII. His love for aviation led him to open a safety surplus shop, and eventually he moved into manufacturing his own products, designing and creating his own prototypes by hand.
The company grew, offering repair services and products for helicopters. When Oroshnik was in his late 70s, he decided to expand the company even more.
“I remember thinking, ‘At 77, aren’t you thinking about slowing down?’” recalled his daughter, Miriam Oroshnik. “But he’s the kind of guy who would definitely die in the saddle.”
In 1995, the company moved to its current Hialeah warehouse. Five years later, Oroshnik, who attended the University of Florida, gave up a career in graphic design to take over the factory. She came to Florida to take care of her father as he recovered from an illness, and now splits her time between New York City and Miami.
“I walked around and I felt like his main managers didn’t have his best interests at heart,” said Oroshnik.
Under her leadership, the company has expanded with a sales office in Dubai, the launching of its RFID division and the developing new aviation safety products.
“I’ve tried to bring it into the 21st Century,” Oroshnik said of the company her father founded. “My dad ran it like a mom and pop business.”
Oroshnik said the company’s track record and its international market has allowed EAM Worldwide to grow even while domestic airlines struggle.
“A lot of airlines know that their orders are going to be on time and correct,” she said.
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