Wednesday, May 20th, 2020
Company's gowns block virus
Novolex normally makes customized plastic packaging
By William Kincaid
Officials at Novolex's Coldwater plant have repurposed a production line to make. . .
COLDWATER - A Coldwater manufacturer of customized packaging will soon crank out 2 million isolation gowns a month for health care providers, assisted-living centers and other businesses in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Coldwater is home to one of Novolex's nine North American facilities that are mass-producing personal protective equipment being shipped across the nation, said Galen Killam, a senior technology and product manager.
Novolex specializes in paper and plastic flexible packaging products.
The Coldwater plant, formerly known as Accutech Films Inc., develops packaging materials that require food-grade certifications, making them easily adaptable for manufacturing sanitary plastic sheets that can be formed into medical PPE and other equipment, according to a news release.
Company officials pieced together machinery from three production machines to produce isolation gowns, the release states.
"The demand has been phenomenal. It's been overwhelming, actually," Killam said about the gowns. "At that Coldwater facility we brought up the first line last week. They're looking at bringing up their second line to make this product probably next week."
In a week or so, the Coldwater plant should be on pace to manufacture 2 million gowns a month. Once all Novolex facilities involved in the initiative are running at full speed, the company expects to turn out up to 16 million gowns a month, Killam said.
The Coldwater plant's two lines will be dedicated to making gowns as long as necessary while the other areas of the plant will continue to make products for existing customers.
That number of expected gowns to roll out is not as daunting as it sounds as Novolex routinely handles orders for millions of items, Killam noted.
"We make a lot of different things," he said. "A million means a lot, but it's not scary to us. We're really good at making a lot of large quantities."
At the pandemic's onset, Novolex's engineers, designers and programers retrofitted machines and supply-chain logistics at nine North American facilities, to sustainably mass produce PPE to help offset a national shortage.
Killam oversaw the project.
"A lot of people are jumping in in smaller ways, but we had the capability to jump in in a pretty large way," he said. "We started making gloves and sent them out and the feedback was really quite good."
Company officials tapped into an existing network of health care distributors to get its gowns and other PPE into the hands of frontline workers at hospitals and senior living centers, as well as business owners preparing to reopen after a prolonged shutdown, he said.
They first began making gowns and face shields but plan to produce other types of PPE.
"We took those two as kind of our first high-demand (products) that we thought we could help and do the right thing for your employees, for our community, etc.," he said.
They've since secured federal contracts for more orders.
"We have some already, and I do foresee more coming from the government, again, meeting the demand of the people in need," Killam said.
The biggest challenge to taking on a new line was coming up with designs as engineers worked remotely from home.
"It's been more of a challenge of getting the information together into one spot and then getting it there," he said.
With some medical professionals predicting that COVID-19 may be here to stay for some time, Killam believes PPE could become a permanent product line.
"There are things in life that create fundamental changes in the way we behave and the things that we do," Killam said, citing 9/11 as an example. "Part of that change will be some of the ways we interact, some of the gear that we use."
All Novelex plants were deemed essential operations and have continued working throughout the pandemic, Killam said.
A comment was incorrect in the article. It should have read: Galen Killam, a senior technology and product manager, said, "We started making gowns and sent them out, and the feedback was really quite good." The error was made in reporting.