Impact Plastics Inc. and Gilman Brothers Co. are working together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to stockpile products for future national emergencies.
The Connecticut-based companies announced an exclusive distribution partnership to meet orders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for temporary hospital beds and partition panels for field hospitals.
The agreement covers optically clear styrenic blended material used in fabrication, graphics and optical applications.
Bill VanHorn, director of sales at Gilman-based Gilman Brothers told Plastics News he personally started calling national organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross to shift production and ensure employment for staff as "nonessential" production lines shut down.
On March 28, VanHorn got a call from the U.S. Army National Guard, he said.
Gilman is a 122-year-old company that makes expanded polystyrene board, typically used in product displays. Gilman engineers redesigned a temporary bed prototype to accommodate for the length of a mattress that would be used by the state in field hospitals.
"It's great we have these ideas, but it's kind of an issue if you don't have the raw materials," VanHorn said. "We typically have a decent amount of raw stock on hand, but [Impact] jumped in to let us know what their stock was and lead times."
Impact is a Putnam-based extruder of custom thermoplastic sheet.
Gilman was able to meet the first order of 1,000 beds in just 72 hours, VanHorn said, but that wouldn't have happened without Impact Plastics. So far, the companies have produced 3,000 temporary beds for the state of Connecticut.
Gilman exclusively sourced materials from Impact Plastics for the beds, partitions and a more recent order of 4 million face shields.
"They have a very specific proprietary blend of a styrene that we use for this construction," VanHorn said.
Impact went into production of materials for the shields just 36 hours after Gilman got the order, he said.
"It basically gave us immediate entry into the PPE network," VanHorn said. "This is evolving beyond just the corona[virus] situation. It's now about natural disasters and having stockpiles of temporary beds. We're looking at other types of products to offer in that space."
Impact President David Kingeter said the two companies have worked together for more than 25 years, so the partnership comes naturally.
"Our entire organization was just so impressed with how they pivoted to this new market and made themselves essential in 72 hours," he said. "We were just happy to be a part of it.
"Unfortunately, a lot of our customers that aren't in the medical, pharmaceutical or food segments of our business were deemed not essential," Kingeter said, "but right now we're running sometimes seven days a week on some lines to provide the material for these beds, as well as the face shields."
VanHorn said Gilman is also working to design new products like temporary shelters and tables to pair with temporary hospital beds.
As many large medical companies move to produce test kits in response to the pandemic, some "aren't able to pivot as easily as the Gilman company, but there's definitely a groundswell of American ingenuity out there," Kingeter said. "Everyone's got an idea. … There's been high demand for stockpiling and anticipation of supply chain interruption. A lot of preparation towards mitigating that risk."
Now, Gilmans' and Impact Plastics' sales teams will work together to bring in new production opportunities, according to a news release from Gilman.
"Innovation and collaboration has been the backbone of the partnership," Kingeter said. "That's part of what aligns up well with us. Whenever there's an opportunity to get involved in and support this effort, we're all hands on deck."
"It is with great enthusiasm that we make this announcement to the trade," he said. "Expect the unexpected from this dynamic partnership as we continue to push our joint technology towards bigger and better commercialization."
"Most manufacturers like my competitors don't want to share who their suppliers are," VanHorn said. "I want to scream it from the top of the mountain because we're very privileged to be able to have this alliance with Impact. Their plant goes around the clock, from their president down, everybody is accessible to pull miraculous lead times.
"To have a partner that you can share everything with and not get into a hide-and-seek game of costing and application is extraordinary and we've only just begun," he said. "It's bittersweet because of what we're up against but … if we can contribute to being a part of something bigger, to help save lives and jobs and get into new, growing markets and sustain that, I can't think of anything in my career that's been more rewarding."