By Dianna Brodine, managing editor
The plastics manufacturing industry is either boom or bust right now – some plants are (or recently were) shuttered due to statewide stay-at-home orders and others have added personnel to churn out essential medical safety products. My email inbox has been filled with stories from companies announcing shifts in their production lines, partnerships with neighboring facilities and creative uses of 3D printers. I’ve heard of facilities that are quoting medical components that are far outside their typical product lines, and I know of at least one company that temporarily sent its employees to a competitive firm to keep staff employed and production lines moving.
COVID-19 has stressed supply chains and given plastics manufacturing the opportunity to do what it does best: show up.
In this article, we recognize the companies that have made radical shifts in the way they do business in response to COVID-19. If you have news to share from your company, send me an email at [email protected], and I’ll add it to the list.
- By the end of March, the 3M plant in Valley, Nebraska, needed workers. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, unprecedented demand for N95 respirators – one of the personal protective equipment products manufactured at the Valley plant – had already pushed the plant to maximum production. With increased capacity and additional shifts running, the plant was looking for help. Knowing it would take a couple weeks to staff up locally, management put out a call to 3M for volunteers. The requirements? Drive to Valley during a worsening pandemic, live in a hotel in a new city for two or more weeks and work in a manufacturing role with which most volunteers would have little experience. The call went out on a Monday night for 25 volunteers. By the next morning, more than 100 had responded, and the initial request actually netted more than 200 3Mers across Minnesota and Iowa, some with a little plant experience, some with none. Eventually selecting 50 volunteers, most were on the road Tuesday and Wednesday, advised to take their own cars to maintain social distance, as 3M Valley plant leaders organized lodging for them in a nearby hotel. The volunteers made up of engineers and technicians from 3M Center and other 3M plants in Minnesota and Iowa were quickly onboarded and put to work, assisting with tasks and positions that allows the Valley plant to maximize daily throughput.
- Intertech Plastics is contributing to alleviate the shortage of PPE. The company is working with Genesis Plastics in Colorado to build face masks. In less than five days, the Intertech team designed and built a mold and started molding the headband for facemasks. The company now is producing thousands a day.
- PTA Plastics received notice from one of its major medical device customers that their products, including ventilators for treating the most seriously ill COVID-19 patients, have been designated under the Defense Production Act. This prioritizes production of these products whereas demand for these critical components has escalated from 5,000 units a year to 10,000 units per month for the foreseeable future. The company has initiated recruiting efforts to quickly expand and train its labor force, all while maintaining employee safety.
- The Met2Plastic facility is mobilizing to support the fight against COVID-19 by maintaining its production. Among the many medical applications that the company serves, some of the components produced are used in diagnostic machines for healthcare testing. These diagnostic stations are used by hospitals, laboratories and various departments of health for the testing of COVID-19.
- Primex Plastics Corporation has aggressively joined the fight against the COVID-19 virus by engaging its three divisions in producing vital materials for first responders and medical professionals. In less than 24 hours, Primex Color, Compounding & Additives in Garfield, New Jersey, developed and started manufacturing a compound that is used to produce plastic vials for COVID-19 test kits. Primex’s extrusion division is producing clear plastic sheet needed to manufacture face shields. And, in just two days, in conjunction with Richmond’s Reid Health, Primex Design & Fabrication (PDF), designed and began producing replacement face shields for Reid’s bio helmets that protect clinical staff. In a press release, Reid described PDF’s effort as an “Apollo 13 moment” where an unorthodox solution saved the moment.
- Rogan Corporation announced that the company will produce 500,000 parts to be used in the production for a couple hundred thousand ventilators. The company received two significant orders and will begin immediately, helping the all-out effort to boost production of the crucial component for COVID-19 patients. The part produced by Rogan is an overmolded operation that has four steps in the production process.
- Viking Plastics is doing its part to support the medical industry by precision-molding a part for the Ford/GE Ventilator program to assist the medical community. The company received a purchase order on Good Friday after only two days of discussions and was able to deliver the mold in just one week. Viking Plastics initiated production immediately to support builds at the Ford Rawsonville plant. Product development occurred as the mold was being built. Ford/GE Healthcare plan to build 50,000 ventilators in 100 days.
- Recently, a regional medical system reached out to Falcon Plastics, looking for assistance with 3D printed ear guard mask holders for its team. The Falcon Plastics team met and decided its capabilities would allow it to do better – the company was able to create and build a mold, quickly, in-house to begin injection molding these parts within one week. Falcon Plastics Brookings facility will be running these parts at a rate of around 5,500 per day. Falcon will be donating these ear guard mask holders to medical facilities, beginning with those in locations around the company’s four US-based facilities and then branching out if the need is present.
- PolyFlex Products is supporting an initiative to produce 30,000 face shields in 30 days for Michigan’s first responders.
- Due to the shortage of personal protective equipment, Tessy Plastics has been prototyping a variety of products related to the testing and treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tessy took the initiative to invest in the injection molds necessary to produce the face shields and has partnered with Onondaga County on this effort. The face shield is a three-piece assembly that is comprised of a headband, visor and shield.
- Metro Mold & Design (MMD) is proud to join the fight against COVID-19 by molding components for disposable face shields, helping to quickly build the country’s supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Joining the Stratasys coalition, MMD has successfully adapted Stratasys’ 3D-printed visor frame for injection molding to accelerate the ability to meet the PPE requirements needed to begin reopening America, re-engineering a tool to effectively produce 20,000 visor frames per week.
- To protect frontline workers, Stratasys launched a 150-company coalition to digitally print face shields. Each unit consists of a visor frame and a plastic protective shield that are packaged with elastic bands and distributed to hospitals and healthcare facilities.