Early this year, global plastics processors shifted to new production lines to meet unprecedented demand for goods needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic while keeping their workers employed through periods of lagging demand in other sectors.
Those suppliers are still seeing the effects of the pandemic on their core markets, and some have shifted almost entirely into medical as high demand for items like personal protective equipment and medical testing products has continued through the year.
Shanty Bay, Ontario-based Molded Precision Components' production was about 95 percent automotive in December 2019 when it signed its first medical customer contract, David Yeaman, president and owner, told Plastics News. Today, MPC's production is about 90 percent medical and just 10 percent automotive, he said.
"It's been a really incredible ride," Yeaman said. "We knew relatively early [COVID] was going to shut down the automotive area here in Canada and [we] tried to position ourselves to survive the pandemic."
MPC didn't lay anyone off, Yeaman said, and it stocked automotive products until it could develop some essential business.
The company, which does its own tool building and molding manufacturing, created a joint venture with its medical customer to develop an adjustable, injection molded headband with a replaceable visor, he said.
In just eight days, Yeaman said, MPC "designed and developed a face shield, had a patent pending on it, formulated a joint venture, applied for a grant application and had an approval."
MPC received grants from the Canadian government to fund tooling, he said, but there were still more challenges to overcome.
"We needed space," Yeaman said. "The township lent us the hockey arena, and we moved our entire warehouse into the arena and all the stock automotive components we were running in the meantime."
Before the pandemic hit, MPC had begun construction to expand its existing facility, he said.
"There was concern that would have to stop," Yeaman said, but instead, MPC accelerated construction to increase the size of the building from 30,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet.
"In 60 days, we launched an entire facility of 14 brand-new molding machines with robots and automated packaging systems," he said. "We made over $5 million worth of tooling and now have the capacity of making 450,000 face shields a day."
The federal and provincial Canadian governments together purchased $27 million worth of face shields from MPC, Yeaman said.
MPC also retooled some of its existing machines to make face shields, he added.
"There is an ongoing market in face shields that we will continue to compete in," Yeaman said. This year, MPC also developed technology for making bottles for hand sanitizers and soaps with a one-step process, he said.
With so many new production lines, the company went from $10 million in sales in 2019 to $90 million in sales so far this year, Yeaman said.
With the increased demand and sales, MPC's staff has also more than doubled. The molder started with 55 employees and saw a surge of 185 staff midyear, with seasonal student employees. That leveled out to 125 employees total, he said.
"It's put a lot of people back to work who were otherwise laid off," Yeaman said.