The plastics industry is deemed essential during the COVID-19 outbreak, and most processors, as well as mold-making companies and equipment makers, are staying open to supply the components and products required by the healthcare industry. Over the past few decades, the medical industry has become one of the biggest markets served by the plastics industry. PlasticsToday has heard from a number of processors and mold makers giving us their status.
Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) President and CEO Tony Radoszewski issued a statement on March 20 requesting that all local, state, and federal governments consider plastic resin and plastic product manufacturers as essential in order to stay open when shelter-in-place orders are issued. “With more and more businesses being ordered to close during the pandemic crisis, it is critical that healthcare workers have access to plastic products. Single-use plastics can literally be the difference between life and death. Items such as IV bags and ventilators, which are of the utmost importance right now, have components made of single-use plastics. The single-use hospital gowns, gloves, and masks that protect our healthcare workers every day are also made of plastic. I would venture to say that every machine, piece of medical equipment, hospital bed, examination scope, and tool has a component made of plastic, most of which are molded to exacting tolerances, which is possible due to the resin and machinery being used.”
Wittmann Battenfeld USA is remaining open for business during the COVID-19 outbreak, having been deemed an essential business by Connecticut for supplying machinery, equipment, and support to numerous medical and packaging molders, who are ramping up operations to provide critical supplies to battle the pandemic.
“As of today, we have received 45 ‘essential status’ letters from customers who mold products that are critical to saving lives and battling this pandemic,” said David Preusse, President of Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. “We are doing all we can to support these customers with our molding machines, robots, auxiliary equipment, spare parts and customer support.”
Wittmann Battenfeld has received essential status letters from customers across the country, including industry leaders such as BD, Jabil Healthcare, Baxter Healthcare, Eli Lilly, 3M, Nemera, Flex, Cardinal Healthcare, Corning Life Sciences, Technimark, and Comar, to name a few. These customers are making essential plastic parts for ventilators, laboratory supplies, blood-testing devices, drug-delivery systems and more.
Some companies are taking steps to make their work places safer so that employees who are needed on the job can be in a healthy environment. Pyramid Mold & Tool, a mold manufacturer in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, is taking “precautionary measures necessary to help ensure the well-being of our employees, customers, and facility operations,” said Stephen Hoare, President of Pyramid Mold & Tool, a company that serves the healthcare industry.
“To support the health and safety of all, we are enhancing the overall purity of our facility by installing several Puro UV germicidal lighting systems,” said Hoare. “Puro Helo F1 and F2 disinfecting lighting fixtures, powered by Violet Defense technology, are FDA approved and are a proven method for surface and air disinfection using high-intensity, broad-spectrum UV-C, UV-B and UV-A light.”
Hoare said Pyramid is “closely monitoring” CDC updates, has implemented a “more robust general cleaning protocol that focuses on high-traffic areas,” and is “screening employee and visitor health before they enter the facility.”
R&D/Leverage in Lees Summit, MO, also has taken steps to protect its workforce to “ensure we can continue to work and meet expected delivery dates,” said Mike Stiles, CEO. “However, as this situation evolves, we must evaluate what is required to best keep ourselves and those around us healthy and safe.”
Stiles noted that the company is restricting employee business travel plans for the next 30 days, and in-house visits will be limited to work repair on equipment and deliveries only. “We anticipate no changes to business operations or services as we are working closely with our vendors to make sure we have adequate supplies and personnel to remain operational.”
In Canada, Shepherd Thermoforming, based in Brampton, ON, has many customers whose services are deemed essential by Health Canada and the World Health Organization. Shepherd is also deemed an essential service by the province of Ontario and will carry on operating and supplying thermoformed tooling and products, said Mark Shepherd, Vice President.
Shepherd outlined some of the steps the company is taking, including a strict hand-washing policy for both employees and visitors before entering the production area; distribution of disposable gloves for employee use during shifts; and increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces. Additionally, all meetings have either been postponed or moved to telecommunications/online platforms. Temperature screening and social distancing have also been implemented.
Rick Finnie, President of M.R. Mold & Engineering in Brea, CA, sent out a notice that the company falls under the essential business designation, which allows it to continue to operate as a critical infrastructure sector. Among the sectors listed is critical manufacturing, which includes workers necessary for manufacturing of products for the medical supply chain and emergency service industries.
“We have been advised by our legal counsel that we are qualified as an essential business and, therefore, are allowed to continue providing services to all our customers,” said Finnie. “We are relieved and happy to state that we are open for business and look forward to serving all within the guidelines set forth. M.R. Mold is adhering to the precautions recommended by the CDC for our employees and their family’s safety.”
Wittmann Battenfeld’s Preusse noted that while the company continues operations, Wittmann Battenfeld has taken its own measures to prevent the spread of the virus and has directed many of its employees to work from home.
“We have about 30 staff on hand at our two plants in Torrington, CT, to work on the essential jobs,” he said. “Luckily, we took action to be ahead of the curve. We tested our IT systems before we [had] to shutter all office staff and most manufacturing staff, in a ‘hot state.’ We have more than 50 staff now working remotely.”
Adjustments have been made to some of the company’s customer services to help ensure molders can continue receiving the support they need. A series of webinars for robot training have been created to temporarily take the place of in-person classes, for example. Also, the company has numerous apps and online support systems available for customers 24/7.
Preusse added: “Plastics are essential materials for manufacturing items that are essential to battle the COVID-19 crisis. The importance of plastics in a time like this cannot be overstated, and we are proud to be a part of this industry. It should be noted that the ‘plastic is bad’ mantra that was in the news just weeks ago has become just the opposite now, as the world sees just how much plastic is the essential material used in saving lives.”
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