When lead times were months out for acrylic and polycarbonate clear barriers, Palram Americas Inc. converted a foam PVC production line to produce a new transparent PVC sheet that could also slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The Lehigh Valley, Pa.-based subsidiary of Palram Industries invested in blending and process equipment to make its Palclear IND-brand sheets in a variety of thicknesses to meet new and immediate needs for protective barriers.
The company also increased production of its Palsun-brand PC products.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement retailers, meat processing plants and transit authorities all over the world had just put a big dent in the global supply of clear sheet. They urgently needed virus-blocking barriers and face shields to protect their workforces thrust onto the front lines of the fast-spreading respiratory illness.
When it came time to reopen other phases of the economy, dentist offices, restaurants, libraries and hair salons took similar steps. And then the schools and universities began looking to the industry to help them return to classrooms in the fall.
The performance plastics sector found itself scrambling to add capacity and supply products. Both Henagar, Ala.-based Polymer Industries and Vycom Plastics, a subsidiary of Azek Co., which didn't produce see-through materials, also brought up lines to produce clear sheet.
The rapid response of clear sheet producers and fabricators to the pandemic resulted in new products for doctors to examine patients, stylists to cut hair, nail technicians to give manicures, families to hug loved ones in nursing homes, golfers to share carts and the list goes on.
"It's really a credit to our industry and our distributors that they recognized a need and came up with products to meet the particular applications," said Craig Saunders, president of the International Association of Plastics Distribution and director of supplier relations and logistics for Irving, Texas-based North American Plastics.
"The end user may not have known what they really needed, but the people in our industry identified it and came up with a lot of creative solutions to provide barriers and protection for different industries," he said in a phone interview.
For example, Palram says its Palclear IND clear sheet is an excellent alternative to other materials, and unlike acrylic, it is shatter-proof, won't craze with repeated sanitation, is self-extinguishing and offers a long life cycle.
Palram also introduced Palclad Pro HYG wall covering, which it describes as silver ion-infused, antimicrobial panels that improve bacterial and viral infection control. The company says that in clinical testing, the panels destroyed up to 99.9 percent of pathogens on their surfaces within 24 hours.
Palram typically manufactures semifinished extruded thermoplastic sheets, panel systems and finished products for the construction, architectural design, advertising, agricultural, glazing, fabrication and transportation industries. But now it has a new "fighting COVID-19" product line of PC and PVC protective barriers — clear, translucent and opaque — face shields, sneeze guards, antimicrobial walls and interlocking PVC panels.
As an essential manufacturer, Palram continues to be a key player in the protection materials supply chain throughout the pandemic, Daniel Rustin, industrial plastics division business unit manager, told Plastics News.
"On one hand, some elements of our day to day have become more challenging. Customers need product faster than ever before, sales reps are traveling less and trade shows are either totally canceled or virtual," Rustin said. "On the other hand, the Palram team has adapted extremely well to the circumstances, and we've come to embrace our role as an essential company who really makes a difference in the fight against COVID-19. We've seen increased productivity, a work mentality shift from traditional approaches to more digital-savvy strategies and a morale boost among our employees who are proud to see the positive impacts that our products are making throughout the world."