‘Apollo 13 moment:’ Richmond company designs, produces shields for Reid
A global shortage of Personal Protective Equipment that was putting thousands of healthcare workers at great risk has led to an “Apollo 13 moment” at a Richmond plastics company — and major relief to Reid Health’s clinical staff on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The new virus outbreak worldwide, along with panic buying and hoarding, left health systems dangerously ill-equipped to care for new patients due to limited supplies of gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields and gowns. So in what company officials are calling their own “Apollo 13 moment,” Primex Plastics is already making two different kinds of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that Reid Health officials say will greatly enhance their ability to protect staff during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
In a series of almost miraculous circumstances, Primex developed, designed and scheduled mass production – all in just two days — of face shields to be used with special protective helmets at Reid that protect staff dealing with contagious airborne disease. As word spread, the company is also ramping up production to help other healthcare providers.
“We can’t overstate the positive impact this will have on our team members on the frontlines in facing this outbreak, especially when our heroes are from our own community.” Craig Kinyon, Reid Health President/CEO
“We can’t overstate the positive impact this will have on our team members on the frontlines in facing this outbreak, especially when our heroes are from our own community,” said Craig Kinyon, Reid Health President/CEO. He said the production of these shields will greatly enhance the safety of his team. “We have to protect our team or we risk not having people to care for patients. The team at Primex truly stepped up on our behalf – and with unbelievable speed.”
Scott Rauch, Reid Health Vice President, cited “an amazing” series of events that led to Primex getting involved. Brent Cotter, who is a manager in the Material Services department at Reid that deals with supplies, suggested this past Sunday the idea of asking if a local plastics company could help with the shortage of shields. Rauch happens to attend a Bible study with Dale Blunk, who works in inside sales at Primex. Rauch reached out Sunday evening.
Blunk then contacted coworkers in production and design. By early Monday morning the Primex and Reid Health teams were at the table with a sample of what Reid needed. Then the Primex team went to work.
Doug Borgsdorf, Business Unit Director, who runs the division that is making the shields, said his team from production and design took Reid’s sample and gathered samples of other products. “We took all the things we have in our building that we make, threw them on the table and said ‘here it is: our Apollo 13.’ We all sat down – eight feet apart – and said, ‘how do we do this?'”
Borgsdorf said their main product up to now was returnable protective packaging. “Now we were looking at protective packaging for people.” Other things had to fall into place, and they did. Suppliers responded quickly with materials needed. The type of plastic necessary for the special shields happened to be the type in production currently at their factory – so the right material was immediately available.
After a few tries with design, the shield for the helmets was ready. As a bonus, another prototype that doesn’t involve a helmet was also created. Reid Health liked it so well, they ordered a supply of them too. After 1,000 of the first shield is produced and delivered, they will produce the second one soon after. The second one will alleviate a shortage of goggles by providing eye protection and also protect the masks under it, allowing them to be used longer and conserve a limitedsupply.
Borgsdorf said Mike Cramer, company president, was in full support of the effort of Primex in supporting Reid.
Sam Iden, M.D., Reid Emergency, said the equipment will play a huge role in reducing staff anxieties as they treat a growing number of patients. “I am so very appreciative of their efforts and assistance. We were becoming critically low on vital protective gear due to nationwide supply chain issues. Primex and its employees are playing a vital role in protecting healthcare workers and saving lives. Personally I now have a greater comfort in knowing that when I need to do an invasive procedure that puts the team at risk we have the tools needed to stay safe. I am so proud of our entire community and there outpouring of support.”
Stephanie Burden, manager of emergency nursing at Reid Health, said the Primex crew “dropped everything. They were all hands on deck” as they took Reid’s existing helmets and quickly worked to design the replacement. “It’s such a relief to the staff,” she said, noting how emergency workers are part of the frontlines of such an outbreak. “We couldn’t use the helmets at all without the shields,” she said.
Darin Dubbs, Director of Human Resources at Primex, said this was a bright spot during a very trying time we are all facing today. “This time is not about business. It is a time of unity,” he said. “Our ability to help in the crisis has been uplifting to the employees at Primex. We are happy to be able help Reid Health and others in the community, and continue to provide stable employment to our employees.”
As news has spread on social media, Borgsdorf said Primex is getting numerous requests from other hospitals and health systems, and is now on track to make 100,000 shields.
Jennifer Bales, M.D., Reid Health’s Chief of Staff and also an ER physician, said Primex’s efforts brought hope. ” There are not many bright moments in the preparation for this crisis, but when the community becomes part of our team, I can see a gleam of hope. We will face the threat ahead together, with stronger armor thanks to Primex’s efforts.”
Amanda Martinez, RN, Clinical Practice Leader in Reid’s ER, says the impact is significant for her team. “We are really grateful for what they were able to do for us,” she said. “Honestly, the need for these things is probably going to get greater.”
“We will face the threat ahead together, with stronger armor thanks to Primex’s efforts.” — Jennifer Bales, M.D. Chief of Staff
‘Houston, we have a partnership:’ Companies join in making face shields
A successful effort by a Richmond company to manufacture equipment to protect healthcare and emergency workers now involves three companies who are providing thousands of face shields to customers across the nation.
Doug Borgsdorf, Business Unit Director with Primex Plastics, says the effort’s updated tagline is “Houston, we have a new partnership!” He was referencing how the company described two weeks ago an “Apollo 13 moment” when his team looked at what Reid Health needed and then gathered up things they normally make on a table to figure out how to make face shields – and then doing so in two days. News of the effort spread and resulted in two more Richmond companies joining in to help in what has become a national effort.
Ahaus Tool & Engineering, Inc., and B & F Plastics are also working with Primex to produce the shields, which have been ordered by more than 75 other healthcare systems. Borgsdorf notes this project is the first time the three companies have collaborated like this – before, they were suppliers or customers of each other.
“I think this really goes to the heart of small town USA and the drive of people working together in ways we probably never thought possible,” he said. “I’m so very proud.”
Justin Scheiben, Vice President at B & F, said his company was aware of the need for face shields and heard what Primex was doing for Reid Health, so the company offered to help. His company supplies products for several plastic and rubber markets and has seen a slowdown in the automotive and RV industry that was affecting his business. “We have been able to transition 12 employees into the die-cutting/fabrication part of this face shield process, which has helped in not having to cut hours or potentially lay-off anyone in this unexpected slowdown.”
In yet another community support moment, B & F also purchased a supply of the shields and donated them to local law enforcement agencies, including Richmond Police, Wayne County Sheriff’s and Reid Health Police.
Most of the companies’ current effort is to produce the more broadly used face shield that Primex developed for Reid, though the company is also making shields for a special protective helmet for Tacoma, Wash., hospitals.
At Ahaus, company officials say they were able to quickly develop a process to support Primex, with Ahaus team members assembling 75,000 to 100,000 masks a week. Jeff Sheridan, Vice President and Co-Owner, said the company has a dedicated production space with 12 assembly work stations along with other areas for staging materials and final packaging. “We have also adjusted some work schedules to get a partial second shift in place for assembly. This type of production is very different from our normal business of designing and building custom manufacturing equipment, so it has been a big adjustment for our whole team to get into a high volume production mode very quickly. I could not be more pleased with how our team has jumped in to help.”
In what Primex officials dubbed their “Apollo 13 moment,” a chance connection a couple of weeks ago led to Primex figuring out how to make the shields for Reid in just two days. Brent Cotter, who is a manager in the Material Services department at Reid that deals with supplies, suggested to Scott Rauch, Reid Health Vice President, that a plastics company may be able to help. Rauch happened to attend a Bible study with Dale Blunk from Primex. That connection led to a meeting the next day and production in two more.
The reports on that effort spread the news, which led to orders coming in from across the country from hospitals struggling with a national shortage of protective equipment. Before the COVID-19 emergency, the company normally made returnable protective packaging.
Borgsdorf said his plants are now able to produce almost 350,000 face shields and 20,000 “bio helmet” shields a week.
Kevin Ahaus, President and Co-owner, says his team has a great attitude about the change, its partnerships and the challenges. “This production atmosphere is a challenge for our team, which is accustomed to designing and building custom equipment. The project should give many of us a renewed appreciation and understanding of how our equipment helps the overall process and lives of those making products on a daily basis. We are also very excited to be working with other companies in Richmond to help people serving on the front lines of this crisis. We know that the people of the community come together in times of need, and this moment is no different. We are honored to be a part of that.”
Primex develops plastic divider system for golf carts
PrimexProtect Eagle and Birdie lines designed to help courses maintain player spacing while operating at full capacity.
To help keep golfers on the course while still practicing social distancing, Indiana-based Primex Plastics Corporation has created the PrimexProtect Eagle and Birdie lines of golf cart dividers (patent pending). The dividers are easily installed plastic shielding systems for golf carts, allowing them to be shared by two golfers while helping maintain social distancing and getting courses running at full capacity.
The Eagle system extends from the seat back to the dash, while the Birdie version runs from the seat back to the front edge of the seat. Both systems are made from clear vinyl sheet, attach easily with no drilling or tools required, and roll up out of the way when not needed. The dividers are constructed with use hook and loop fasteners for attachment to the cart roof, and galvanized wire weighting at the bottom. They can be disinfected with mild soap and water or most cleaning agents.
Since early March, Primex has been producing its line of PrimexProtect products to ensure safety for first responders, medical personnel, other employees and customers. With the Eagle and Birdie dividers, the product line keeps expanding and now includes face shields, social distancing barriers and medical waste containers, as well as social distancing signage and ear protection.
All PrimexProtect products are proudly produced in Richmond, Indiana, at Primex’s Design & Fabrication division.
Local industries hustle to meet healthcare needs during crisis
Innovation, speed, collaboration, and follow-through.
Those seem to be the watchwords of Wayne County, Indiana industries as they respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, March 22, a discussion of the looming shortage of Personal Protective Equipment at Reid Health in Richmond sparked an idea. Perhaps Primex Plastics (also in Richmond) could help with face shields, suggested Brent Cotter, a Material Services Department manager. That evening, Reid Vice President Scott Rauch, who had been part of the discussion, conveyed Cotter’s idea to Dale Blunk, who works in inside sales at Primex and attends a Bible study group with Rauch.
Blunk contacted his company and by early the next morning, Reid and the Primex production and design team were working together on plans for face shields which would attach to biomedical helmets.
Doug Borgsdorf, Business Unit Director at Primex, told the Palladium-Item newspaper that a prototype was ready within 48 hours and production began within 72 hours.
On Thursday, March 26, one thousand shields were delivered to the hospital.
“The team at Primex truly stepped up on our behalf – and with unbelievable speed,” said Reid Health President/CEO Craig Kinyon in a news release.
And that was just the beginning.
A second kind of face shield that doesn’t attach to a helmet also was developed. Production began on the Primex Protect shield as soon as the initial shipment of helmet shields was ready.
By mid-April, Primex had shipped approximately 2 million face shields (mostly of the non-helmet variety) to 41 states and two countries, Borgsdorf said in a telephone interview.
The demand for the shields was so vast, so immediate, and so urgent that Primex reached out to other Richmond companies for help. Borgsdorf contacted B&F Plastics and Ahaus Tool and Engineering, both of which have a strong working relationship with Primex. “Both responded within 24 hours,” he said.
Justin Scheiben at B&F Plastics said their employees began asking about getting involved in the project as soon as the news broke about what Primex was doing.
“This is just great that we’re able to come together to make a product,” he said. B&F now has three shifts of four employees each daily die-cutting shields and sending them the few blocks to Primex for completion.
For Ahaus, which usually builds automated equipment to support the production processes of other companies, the shift to assembly lines for face shields has meant significant changes. “The high volume production of these medical face shields is definitely taking us out of our normal mode of business,” said Vice President and Co-owner Jeff Sheridan in a press release, “but I am proud to see our team step up to the challenge of helping our medical professionals.”
“Ahaus team members have jumped into this project to help make a difference,” said President and Co-owner Kevin Ahaus in the same release. “This is a great team that cares about how they can do good things together.”
All three companies have seen employee morale soar despite long hours at what can be repetitive and less-than-exciting tasks.
“They’re proud to work here and be a part of helping out,” Scheiben said.
At Primex, employee interest in the project had a major impact, according to Borgsdorf.
Initially, the company thought they would be able to produce about 3,000 face shields a day over three shifts. Thanks to suggestions from the assembly line, they are more than tripling that number.
“My employees basically helped the management team come up with a way to make them faster,” Borgsdorf said.
Another Richmond company joined the project in early April.
In the beginning, Primex had a small assembly line producing boxes for shipping the face shields, but that was creating a bottleneck, said Borgsdorf.
At 8 a.m. on April 7, Primex contacted Hoosier Container, a member of Akers Packaging Service Group, about a possible order of boxes. Within an hour, Hoosier Container delivered a sample box with artwork. An hour after that, Primex submitted a purchase order for 35,000 boxes. The first 10,000 completed boxes were at Primex by 2:30 p.m. April 8 and the rest by 8 a.m. April 9.
“Their response to us was spectacular,” Borgsdorf said.
This kind of collaborative effort has helped keep the cost of Primex Protect products (which now include ear protection for people who must wear masks for several hours at a time and point-of-sale transparent barriers) very competitive. The company also has a low minimum order of 100 face shields – and lowers the minimum even more for small nursing homes, medical centers, or law enforcement agencies.
B&F Plastics donated face shields to the Richmond Police Department, Reid Health Police, and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. An anonymous donor supplied shields to the newly organized daycare for children of essential employees at the Richmond Family YMCA. And Primex has given more than 3,500 shields to organizations and individuals suggested by employees.
Meanwhile, people are keeping their jobs. Not only that, Primex has hired nine new employees and is searching for more.
“It’s an emotional ride,” admitted Borgsdorf. But the hassles of rearranging the work floor and break schedules to accommodate social distancing have been more than offset by the thanks that keep rolling in.
“You have no idea the impact this has made on morale as we face this virus,” wrote a Reid nurse on the Primex Facebook page in March. The company maintains a bulletin board filled with similar comments from customers all over the community and beyond.
“We were kind of envious of the other companies like Primex that were … helping out,” Mike Owens, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at CIT (Contract Industrial Tooling) in Richmond, told the Palladium-Item.
But not for long.
CIT got its own chance to help with the pandemic starting Monday, April 6, when company founder Kim Wuertemberger was contacted by Direct Supply, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based seller of long-term care supplies. Would CIT be able to design and produce a “rapid-response” bed to help address the shortage of beds for COVID-19 patients?
“They didn’t even have a concept yet,” Owens said.
A concept drawing arrived the next day and CIT began working on engineering and design.
What was needed was an adjustable bed that had a surface sturdy enough to withstand medical procedures, met height specifications, and could be on casters for mobility. “They needed something functional, less expensive, and that could be turned around quickly,” said Owens.
Two days later, CIT delivered its preliminary design. A follow-up design was sent Friday and over the weekend CIT’s engineering team tweaked it further.
On Monday, April 13, the design was finalized. Two more days and the materials for making the beds were gathered. A prototype bed was manufactured and taken through multiple tests for reliability. By Friday, April 17, a first batch of completed beds was sent to another Richmond company, JM Hutton, for powder-coating.
“Normally this process takes eight to 12 weeks,” said Wuertemberger in a blog on CIT’s website. “We’ve done it in two weeks. To go from concept to manufacturing beds is pretty amazing.”
In fact, the first shipment of beds was headed to Milwaukee before Direct Supply had time to list the product on its website.
That kind of accelerated timeline was also evident in the development and production of two more types of Personal Protective Equipment, this time with the involvement of a doctor at Reid Health.
In March, Dr. Emily Kraft, EMS Medical Director, was following online forums with other healthcare providers dealing with the pandemic when she came across ideas for intubation sheets and intubation boxes.
Intubation – the procedure of inserting a tube so a patient can receive high flow oxygen through a ventilator – is particularly risky with COVID-19. During the procedure, the virus releases tiny droplets into the air that can infect the healthcare workers inserting the tube.
“The sheet was created based on ideas shared by other physicians across the country,” Kraft said in a press release. “It is made of high clarity, heavy-duty clear plastic sheeting that can be draped over the patient ready to be intubated ….” Kraft’s husband, Jeremy, made the first 30 sheets with items he purchased at a hardware store and Reid’s Engineering Department is making more as needed.
Intubation boxes were designed by Jared Dunlap, Director of Clinical Operations & Nursing Practice, and Engineering Director Jeff Cook’s team, based on Dr. Kraft’s idea. Cook had worked with A-Plus Signs in Richmond for many years and thought the company might be able to produce the boxes, which provide similar protection to the sheets but are preferable in some circumstances.
“We gladly accepted the project,” said Ed Thompson of A-Plus in an email. The company “turned a pencil sketch into a blueprint, then a finished product.” According to Reid’s press release, the process took less than two days.
“It feels great to be able to help our community in any way we can,” Thompson said. “I think everyone here is proud to be doing what they can for the cause.”
Employees at Tiedemann-Bevs Industries in Richmond are similarly pleased. “They are supporting a good cause and happy to be part of it,” said President and CEO Bill Jones.
The company, which usually makes textiles, embroideries, and snap-in panels for caskets, has added protective gowns to the list. Since mid-March, they have been producing about 1,000 gowns a week as part of an effort by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to help the state meet increased demand for Personal Protective Equipment.
According to the IEDC website, more than 1.17 million items including gowns, face masks, face shields, gloves, goggles and bottles of hand sanitizer have been delivered to the Indiana State Department of Health for distribution. In all, the IEDC has secured commitments for 6.3 million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment for hospitals, first responders, long-term care facilities, and other healthcare providers treating COVID-19 patients.
Jones said he wishes Tiedemann-Bevs could do even more to help but they are so busy with their core business that there are limits on how many team members can work on the project.
Still, it feels good to be part of the solution.
The same could be said for Adam Shea, Plant Manager of Transcendia’s plastic fabrication operation in Richmond. Transcendia is a global corporation headquartered in Franklin Park, Illinois, which specializes in customizing plastic film structures.
When Shea saw an email from Sarah Mitchell, manager of Existing Business and Education at the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, asking if anyone knew of plastic film supplies that might be available for a Muncie plant, he thought perhaps someone in the Transcendia network might be able to help.
He sent out his own message, which was seen by Frank Reo, an Account Manager in the Healthcare division of Transcendia, who added his name to the appeal.
Mitchell’s original email was sent March 27. By April 10, Shea let her know that the Transcendia connection had born fruit. The Mursix stamping plant in Muncie would soon receive 10,000 pounds of face shield materials. (Muncie and Mursix’ headquarters in Yorktown are both are in Delaware County, Indiana, just northwest of Wayne County.)
“They’re very happy about that,” said Reo in a phone call. Shea wasn’t able to join the call, but according to Reo, Shea is proud of helping to put the Indiana company in contact with the Transcendia plant in South Carolina that was able to fill their order.
Michael Wollberg, Transcendia’s Vice President and General Manager Healthcare, praised not only Shea and Reo, but Mitchell as well.
“They were very resourceful and they all went the extra step to make sure things got done,” he said.
Innovation, speed, collaboration, and follow-through.
Borgsdorf said response to the crisis reflects well on Wayne County.
“It reminds me that this county is so much stronger than people give us credit for,” he said. “So many people here want to do great things.”