Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. has opened its new $40 million facility in Lenexa, Kan., for viral transport media (VTM) production to meet sustained demand for COVID-19 testing.
The site will continue to expand to meet that need, the Waltham, Mass.-based company said in an Aug. 28 news release. It added 300 new jobs to the area and 120,000 square feet to Thermo Fisher's manufacturing capacity.
In early May, the U.S. government granted Thermo Fisher a contract to provide "a significant quantity" of VTM for COVID-19 sample collection. Thermo Fisher is sourcing caps and tubes from outside suppliers.
Thermo Fisher secured its access to the new facility on May 18, which at the time was "an empty shell of four walls and a roof," Bret Johnson, vice president of global operations and specialty diagnostics, told Plastics News in an emailed statement.
The company ramped up production at the site from 50,000 units per week to more than 8 million per week since production at the new plant began on July 4.
"The critical need and scale for VTM in the current pandemic response by the U.S. government meant we needed to expand our production in hurry," Johnson said.
VTM, which is dispensed into plastic tubes that are used to collect and transport clinical specimens containing viruses, ensures that the sample collected from a COVID-19 nose swab maintains viability while it is shipped to a lab for testing, the release said.
"We worked closely with our supplier partners to manufacture the plastic tubes and caps necessary for production," Johnson said. "Our production includes filling, labeling and capping VTMs plus all required quality control needed for final product release."
Thermo Fisher had to gear up its plastic tooling capabilities to meet its scale and timing goals, he said.
"We used existing tooling options before designing our own tooling capabilities in order to ramp up to 8 million VTM units per week capacity," Johnson said.
To ensure accuracy of COVID-19 test results, VTM also must be manufactured and dispensed into tubes in an aseptic environment, the release said.
"The new facility is dedicated to accelerating production and ensuring quality control by utilizing the proven blueprint for high-quality VTM production that has been developed in Lenexa," it added.
Gianluca Pettiti, senior vice president and president of the company's specialty diagnostics business, praised the entire team's work in getting the operation up to speed.
"Thanks to their hard work, Lenexa significantly increased production of VTM units," Pettiti said in a news release. "The team has worked with unrelenting intensity to build out and open a new site in just about six weeks. They understood the urgent national need, accepted the challenge and have delivered for the American people."