To keep up with demand for blow molding machines, employees at W. Amsler Equipment Inc. in Bolton, Ontario, changed from two 10-hour shifts to two 12-hour shifts.
They took on some extra duties, too, when sales of household cleaners and some pharmaceuticals skyrocketed after the pandemic was declared.
If a customer has a machine in the build schedule but needed more capacity immediately, W. Amsler Equipment produces containers for them. In one case, a big customer sent an operator to help run the machine.
"It was the first time that happened," CEO Bruce Coxhead told Plastics News. "Doing a production run goes against my grain because then I compete with my customers. But we have been doing it. We've been running 24/7 the last couple weeks."
Machine builders around the world have found new ways to help their customers manufacture the containers and packaging needed for hand sanitizer, cleaners, food and medical devices as well as the nonwoven materials for face masks.
Injection molding machine builder Absolute Haitian was in the spotlight recently for delivering seven presses from its operations center in Moncks Corner, S.C., to Reed Tool Group in Reed City, Mich., in less than two weeks and then an eighth press soon after.
Reed Tool Group, a 61-year-old injection molder that also offers tooling and custom machine building, had just been awarded a contract to produce the majority of the plastic pieces for an OEM involved with one of the national projects spearheaded by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. The goal was to quickly replenish the national stockpile by manufacturing ventilators to help patients breathe and powered air purifying respirators, or PAPRs, to keep front-line health care workers safe from the virus.
GM and partner Ventec Life Systems delivered 30,000 ventilators under a $489 million federal contract while Ford and partner 3M topped 50,000 PAPRs under a $336 million contract.
"This initiative took an entire supply chain to react," John Barnett, Reed Tool Group president and CEO, said, giving a nod to the machine builders who made it possible to produce more personal protective equipment.
Barnett said when he contacted Absolute Haitian, "The company responded with the right equipment, including helpful financing options."
Reed City Group now has a 27-machine fleet, including six ZE electric machines ranging from 44-214 U.S. tons and two MA II S servo-hydraulic machines at 225 U.S. tons from Absolute Haitian.
Barnett said, "Our director of process engineering has found these new machines to be much more precise and efficient than what we have been accustomed to, which is exactly what we needed for this special project."
Glenn Frohring, one of the owners of Absolute Haitian, said the company ascribes to the philosophy: "No offense. Makes sense."
"As we returned to the workplace, we did it safely. Masks required, separation as much as possible, Plexiglas dividers where necessary," Frohring said. "We followed the state guidelines in our three locations: Massachusetts, Ohio and South Carolina. We saw a two-week drop-off in sales. Then, it picked right back up."
Coxhead said machine builders go to great lengths to keep the supply chain humming at W. Amsler Equipment and elsewhere.
While there's an adequate stock of industrial-size containers for hand sanitizer, that's not the case for personal use or household cleaners, Coxhead said. To help meet demand, W. Amsler's machines for bottle development and bottle trials have been pulling double duty.
"In some cases, we do production runs," Coxhead said. "The lab machine doesn't stop. It's running bottles day in and day out for different people."
Founded in 1994, W. Amsler Equipment is the only North American manufacturer of all-electric linear PET stretch blow molding equipment. The company's machines range from one to four cavities with outputs of 1,500-6,000 bottles per hour.