While U.S. hospitals report severe shortages of equipment in their fight against COVID-19, executives at Milton, Wis.-based Charter NEX Films Inc. are running every production line as they meet daily to prioritize production of films needed to fight the coronavirus.
The company supplies film for items like diagnostics test kits, personal protective equipment and food packaging in response to the pandemic.
Doug Latreille, chief commercial officer, said the film supplier has seen some demand decrease from automotive and industrial customers but it is "extremely busy" filling orders for medical and food processing customers.
Charter NEX is running every production line, has seen new customer inquiries and has some of its existing customers "massively" ramping up orders, he said.
"People need swabs and they're rapidly trying to get qualifications in North America for test kits and we've been pulled into those applications as well," Latreille said. "Health care has always been a big portion of our business, and right now it's becoming a bigger portion due to the crisis.
"We had some additional capacity within our business that we always invest in and carry, just because of peaks in seasonality in our business," he said. "Our products aren't machine-specific, so as things like automotive, office supplies and the food service business is slowing down, we're still running those same lines for food packaging [and] the PPE films."
CEO Kathy Bolhous said 100 percent of the company's production lines have been shifted to those high-priority purposes.
"I have a daily meeting on demand to review the schedule every day and talk about priorities, which is not something I would normally as a CEO be involved with," Bolhous said. "That shows the importance of making sure that we're making the films that are really needed.
"Films we were making in automotive or industrial applications, either the demand has dried up or they're just at the bottom of the priority list," she said.
As Charter NEX has begun receiving new orders, Latreille said, its plants have "jumped through hoops" to turn over production to new products "overnight."
"We feel like we're doing our small part to prioritize the PPE and medical products for our country," Latreille said.
Prioritized production is just part of Charter NEX's efforts to respond to the pandemic, Bolhous said.
So far, Bolhous has authorized two weekly $500 bonuses added to all hourly employees' regular paychecks.
Charter NEX is also giving its employees $25 grocery store gift cards to help get them through the crisis, she said.
"It's a very scary time for our employees because we're part of the critical infrastructure," Bolhous said. "The safety of our employees is No. 1, but we have to continue to make films for critical medical and food products."
Bolhous' other daily meeting is with the company's COVID-19 crisis team "to go over everything we're doing and stay on top of recommendations," she said.
Inside facilities, Latreille said, any nonessential employees who can work from home are doing so.
"Blown film lines are spread out. You have an operator that runs one or two lines and there's not a whole lot of personal interactions," Latreille said.
Bolhous said in addition to face masks, optional face shields, gloves and added sanitation, Charter NEX will start taking employees' temperatures before they enter the plant for their shift.
"I wanted to be prepared for face masks and glove recommendations," she said. "The day after the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] made the recommendation, we were able to give all employees a mask.
"One of the frustrations we have right now is the lack of testing," Bolhous said.
Some employees with symptoms are denied COVID-19 testing due to being "low risk," she said, but the company is taking "extreme precautions" if an employee has symptoms by sending them and "any employee they had close contact with" home with paid time off for 14 days.
"I'm really proud of how all the employees are working together to do their part," Bolhous said. "We're all doing everything we can to weather through this together. We're stronger as a team, pulling together and doing our part. I'm really proud of people for that."