When Chris and Debi Robson moved from Pennsylvania to Alabama in 2012, they could have never imagined how answering a request from a YouTube star would start a cascade of generosity from Michigan throughout the Southwest.
The owners of Robson Co., a Vinemont, Ala.-based injection molder and toolmaker, told Plastics News Publisher Brennan Lafferty their tale.
What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation. The full interview is available online at www.plasticsnews.com/audio as part of our new “What Keeps You Up at Night?” podcast.
Q: I understand you’re part of a humanitarian project called Huntsville Fighting COVID. How did you get involved?
Chris Robson: Huntsville Fighting COVID was started by Destin Sandlin, who is known for his website [and YouTube channel], Smarter Every Day. He asked this group up out of Huntsville, Ala., a bunch of engineers, if they could use their 3D printer models for face shields. The response was quite good. They had about 350-400 people making face shield frames on 3D printers. But the demand kept on going higher and higher.
I came across this website. I told him, “I don’t have a 3D printer, but I do have a tool shop and I do have molding facility. Maybe we can mold some of these things.” Needless to say, Destin got ahold me in about 15 minutes. The rest is history. We made a mold in 10 days and got it up and running, and it has been running 24 hours a day. Other than Sunday, we never shut the thing off.
Q: When they were 3D printing the pieces, how many were making in a day’s time, and how has your participation increased the amount of product that you’re able to generate?
Chris Robson: They had 500 people making frames, and they were able to produce a little over 3,000 for that one day, but it obviously didn’t keep up that rate. It usually takes anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours per frame on a 3D printer.
We’re doing one every 33 seconds. So, we’ve been able to increase the throughput dramatically. We’re producing about 2,600 frames a day. Today, we’ve shipped out about 4,000. We are shipping product out to various parts of Alabama, even in Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi.
Q: This is called Huntsville Fighting COVID but sounds like this stretches well beyond Alabama.
Chris Robson: It just started exploding. Destin is getting calls from our state of Alabama, into Atlanta, near Nashville and certainly the southern part of Alabama, which is in such a great need. We’ve been able to supply the whole state of Alabama with the facial frames.
Q: What types of organizations or businesses are receiving these products?
Debi Robson: All the different hospitals and doctor’s offices around the whole area. In fact, we ended up sending out a box over to the fire department here and Vinemont. And the people that actually do the lift trucks for the elderly, we sent them some also.
Q: I’ve heard that you have some volunteers in your shop, helping assemble and ship these parts.
Chris Robson: Oh, yes, they have been a great part of this operation. That certainly warmed our souls that people are volunteering. Most are working at home and they get a little bit bored, so they volunteered, which is on [the] Huntsville Fighting COVID website. Without the volunteers, I don’t think half this would be possible.
We even got some companies stepping up. GE Appliance has supplied all the boxes we could ever need for this project. And big kudos goes to Chase Plastics, out of Clarkston, Mich. They have supplied the resin that we need for free. I can’t say enough for what the Chase has done for us
Q: What’s the value of the Chase donation?
Debi Robson: That’s $1,500 for one Gaylord. In a matter of two weeks, we’ve already had four Gaylords come in.
Q: What is it like to be part of a project like Huntsville Fighting COVID?
Chris Robson: Almost emotional. With social distancing and not being able to meet with friends, to see people coming in here and leaving their homes and their security. They come here and volunteer their time. The people have been absolutely phenomenal. We have a whole family that comes in, God love them.
It’s one of the situations where as I described to a friend, it’s almost like church, people come in here giving of themselves. I tell you what, it is a marvelous thing these people are doing. I can’t say enough how wonderful it is that these people stepping up.
Q: Where does it go from here? Is there an end point?
Chris Robson: It seems like the situation in southern part of Alabama — the rural areas — their access to some of these devices is not as readily available as they are in the bigger cities. So right now, we are sending quite a few devices down to south Alabama, down Mobile, Selma, all the rural areas in between Montgomery and the whole southern part of Alabama.
We’re filling a niche. It’s a good feeling. At this point in time, I don’t see stopping for at least another two or three weeks. Everything we have been making goes out the door the next day.
Editor’s note: For more information, visit HuntsvilleFightCovid.com and RobsonCo.com.