A group of 19 Ohio manufacturers, including injection molding and tooling suppliers, are working with hospitals and the state government on a crash program to deliver 1 million plastic face shields for front-line health care workers in five weeks.
The program, first announced April 9 by Gov. Mike DeWine, is off to a fast start as manufacturers work around the clock, at times deploying new technology to compress what's normally months of product development into 10 very intense days.
But the scramble also highlights a growing challenge: plastics material shortages, as companies around the world try to ramp up production of personal protective equipment.
Tech giant Apple Inc., for example, announced in early April it would make and distribute 20 million face shields to health care workers. That and many other PPE projects are squeezing plastic supply chains, according to those involved in the Ohio project.
"Really, the biggest challenge right now that everybody is seeing was being able to secure the material for the face shield," said Matt Hlavin, CEO of injection molder Thogus Products Co. The Avon Lake company is making them as part of a contract that Cleveland-based industrial equipment maker Eaton Corp. has with Ohio's government.
Ethan Karp, CEO of the Cleveland-based Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network and one of the coordinators of the project, said that "sourcing the plastic was almost impossible with raw materials disappearing at record speed."
"It is Apple and everybody else that is making face shields," he said. "We have talked to a number of the folks that make the sheet. And they have all talked about how they've rapidly expanded their capacity and they're sold out for weeks because everybody across the country is looking to make this sort of product in various forums for PPE."
But Hlavin said his group solved the issue by getting polycarbonate directly from a Saudi Basic Industries Corp. plant in Mount Vernon, Ind., where Sabic both makes pellets and extrudes the sheet needed for the shields.
"I think Apple's got a lot muscle to flex with the scale of their supply chain, but I think one of the biggest contributing factors to the shortage of sheet is all of these little companies trying to help out whether it's the colleges or schools or these fab labs," Hlavin said.