With just five days of lead time, Plastek Group managed to start production of face shields that health care workers need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's incredibly heartwarming to see the amount of energy and determination that everyone has been able to pull together to get a potential lifesaving project up and running so quickly," Project Manager Mike Glotzbach said.
The Erie, Pa.-based company is a major injection molder of packaging for food, pharmaceutical and personal care customers, so all Plastek plants were already open, deemed an essential business, during the pandemic.
"We are fortunate with this essential classification, demand for orders and healthy workforce, to remain open and in operation with limited interruptions," CEO Dennis Prischak said.
While the company continued to operate with as much normalcy as possible, officials decided to search for more ways to help.
Donald Prischak, vice president of sales, and Douglas Prischak, vice president of global tooling and engineering, decided that with Plastek's tooling and design resources, it could start from scratch and be molding a one-size-fits-all, headband-style, clear-view full face shield in just five days.
On March 30, Plastek made the commitment to start the project. It planned to use a Stratasys 3D printer to build prototypes.
Plastek officials learned that Norwalt Design Inc., a partner automation supplier, was also in the process of printing headbands.
"Wanting to do our part to help out, we asked them if they would send us the open-source 3D model so we could begin printing them, too," Douglas Prischak said. "After reviewing it, we realized that we could very easily make a simple, single-cavity cold runner mold to manufacture the part. We immediately met with our engineering and tooling team — PennErie Inc. — to start working on it.
"The enthusiasm with which our team took this on was incredible. We had the mold design done within three hours and by the end of the same day, our Spectrum molding division was setting the mold in the press. Everybody knew they were working on a project that had an immediate impact in fighting the COVID-19 virus, and it was truly impressive to watch the whole team do such a magnificent job with a goal of helping others," Prischak said.
At Spectrum, Molding Manager Justin Denham and Assistant Molding Manager Logan Bower welcomed the new job, shifting existing molds to other presses without impacting production.
"It is an honor to work for a company that is not only doing the best they can for their employees and families during these trying times, but also stepping above and beyond to help medical personnel and their families within the community with the prompt turnaround of a potentially lifesaving product," Denham said.
Shifting from 3D printing to injection molding allowed Plastek to quickly ramp up capacity. Prischak estimated that even higher-capacity 3D printers can only print a few masks at a time, perhaps 10 every two hours. With injection molding, the company estimates it can now make a minimum of 2,500-4,000 pieces a day.
Plastek is donating masks to local organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania hospitals and the Alleghany Health Network.
Plastek funded the entire project on its own, including the cost of the tooling.
"We haven't had time to look at the cost, but we know the good it does outweighs any cost associated with supporting the project," Prischak said.
While the production of the injection molded masks was taking place, Plastek's corporate office staff was working on a lower-technology mask project. Brenda Jackson, executive administrator, recruited Erie Plastek employees who were working from home to help make cloth masks.
Four employees picked up materials and worked from home, and they were assisted by high school students and even CEO Dennis Prischak.
The team completed more than 300 handmade cloth masks. These masks will continue to be made as needed and donated to all Plastek employees in Erie, North Carolina, Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Plastek mandated that employees are required to wear masks while at work starting April 13.
Plastek was a finalist for the Plastics News Processor of the Year award in 2017 and 2018, and it won the PN Excellence Award for customer relations in 2018 and for industry and public service in 2017. The company was No. 47 in Plastics News' most recent ranking of North American injection molders, with estimated sales of $210 million.