As suppliers race to meet increased demand and fill supply shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic, some see opportunities for business expansion with medical and sanitization customers.
For injection molder Gentry Plastics Inc., work on emergency products led it to buy three new molding machines as its customers’ demand for products like industrial disinfectant sprayers, clean-room apparel and food processing items went “way up” in response to the pandemic, said Brian Hershman, vice president of operations at Gentry.
The new presses bring the company’s press fleet up to 15.
“Business has just boomed,” he said. “This scale up is big. … We’re now in 24-hour operations.”
Gentry, based in Gastonia, N.C., also added 12 new temporary employees to meet the increased demand that it “fully intends” to bring on as permanent employees in the future, Hershman said, and the company is already “at capacity” at current production levels.
In recent weeks, Gentry has also started talks with at least four new customers about making respirators and other medical or protective equipment.
“I feel really good about us scaling up in equipment and workforce,” Hershman said. “I think we’ve got a social obligation to continue making this product, and part of that is a healthy workforce.”
He said the company has taken “stringent protection measures” to make sure employees don’t get sick.
“The thoroughness of our safety protocol, I think, is another level than some companies are doing right now,” Hershman said. “Because we have industrial disinfectant and clean-room apparel customers, we have mandatory gloves and suits. … We really want to be prepared if this coronavirus affects more people and gets worse. So we’re doing a lot more than just standing six feet away.”
Novi, Mich.-based Revere Plastics Systems LLC started producing face shields at two of its plants in Michigan and Ohio April 6. The face shield development comes even as most of its plants were already operating at a normal pace, said Doug Drummond, vice president of sales and marketing.
“Before all this happened, just from a business development perspective, we were already working with a couple of medical companies to try to build up that part of our business,” Drummond said. “We were really just getting our foot in the door and our bearings in the medical market when all of this hit. So this may actually spur us even faster.”
Revere has several units working with medical companies to establish ventilator design requirements “to see if Revere can help quickly,” he said.
Medical products “had historically not been a huge part of our company but [are] something we were capable of doing,” Drummond said.
“We’re trying to use those relationships to see if we can help out in that area as well,” he said. “We feel like we’re going to provide a good product at a very reasonable price. We’re happy to help the people that need it and we’re happy to keep some of our own people working. … Our employees are excited about being able to help in this way also.”
Revere is also developing a pump dispenser for hand sanitizer and working with a blow molder making bottles, Drummond said.
Latonia, Ky.-based Tri-State Plastics Inc. started manufacturing face shields in late March, while its regular production levels for automotive and food industry customers slowed slightly, said Kristen Schneider, an account manager at Tri-State.
The packaging supplier also started making intubation boxes for use while intubating virus patients or in an operating room, Schneider told Plastics News.
“We’re hoping with the relationships we’ve been building with our new customers from the face shields that we’ll be able to make other products for them in the future,” she said. “For the past year we’ve been trying to grow our business, and that was one of the industries we were interested to start conversations with, so hopefully this is opening up some doors for future business relationships.”
Tri-State is donating its “imperfect” masks to local fire departments for EMTs and employees’ friends and family who work in health care positions, Schneider said.