Pivoting to Mass Produce PPE for Frontlines Medical Professionals, By Jim Goode, American Innotek
To help address the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) as hospitals, businesses and communities aim to protect against the continued spread of COVID-19, many companies across the country have taken tremendous initiatives to pivot their businesses to develop and produce masks and shields by the thousands. These producers range from businesses who already manufactured medical equipment (like ours) to companies whose typical function is way outside of the medical device space (like Nike).
Regardless of the magnitude of new PPE producing processes, making this change requires organizational agility in order to support the production of a new product, maintain demands for typical business functions and ensure the employees needed for production are taken care of in a global pandemic. At Tru-form Plastics, we added staff to support a 6-day work week and produce more than 100,000 face shields per day. Here are some of the lessons we’ve taken from that shift.
Listen to Health Professionals
When our engineering & tooling manager, Ed Hentges, was approached to develop a PPE shortage solution, he immediately got with the director of the supply chain at a local hospital to brainstorm the face shield. Once an original prototype was designed, he went to the hospital to work directly with doctors and nurses and made adjustments until a workable solution was in place. Rather than making assumptions or waiting for delays by mailing the mask, he was able to quickly design the best solution with hands-on feedback, which allowed us to go from concept to the production line in just a few days.
Nimble Staffing Decisions
To support mass production of a new product – on top of existing manufacturing needs – it’s important to ensure flexibility in staffing decisions. For us, this included the addition of more than 60 temporary workers in our Southern California facilities. We are also fortunate to have an amazing workforce who were also willing to be flexible with their schedules as we added new shifts to allow for 24-hour production, 6 days per week.
While it’s one thing for your business to have flexibility, it’s also essential to empower your employees to have more flexibility to meet these needs, especially in the context of a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Beyond asking for availability to adjust schedules for our new shifts, we are also asking employees to be away from their families, which could create challenges for parents with no school or daycare options. To address this, we established an on-site daycare that is free for our employees. Of course, this requires many best practices to ensure responsible social distancing, and the end-result is a great solution for the kids to enjoy safe, outside stimulation while parents are working.
Prioritize Additional Work Functions
While it would be great to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing PPE needs, businesses always have other responsibilities to their existing customers. Businesses can redistribute their talent in a strategic way to ensure essential priorities are still adequately staffed even though the additional production of PPE is underway.
Our Brief Relief urine bags and Disposa-John solid waste bags remain in high demand as the military stocks up to create a safe and healthy place for people to use the bathroom as it prepares field hospitals to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. With that in mind, we’ve made every effort to ensure those lines don’t see any reduction in staffing and resources – creating quality products on every line running in the plant.
Jim Goode is the president of American Innotek, the parent company of Tru-Form Plastics.