MSA Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Advantage 200 face mask. Image courtesy of MSA.

In our continuing coverage of the manufacturing sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have talked about what we are doing to ensure the safety of our employees and their families.  We have also told of unusual collaborations between manufacturers as well as incredible tales of lightning-fast speed-to-market.

For our part, we have seen strong demand for direct-to-object part-marking machines, particularly in the safety equipment, food packaging, or medical device manufacturing sectors.   So we reached out to our customers to see how they were adapting to manufacturing in light of the pandemic, and to see whether any of them had any interesting stories of their own of manufacturing products essential in the fight against the disease. For one company, MSA, located outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a surge in demand for its products.

MSA, whose slogan is “The Safety Company”, is a leading manufacturer of HEFH (Head/Eye/Face/Hearing) safety equipment.  Recently, MSA donated 65,000 N95 masks to the Allegheny Health Network in Pennsylvania for healthcare providers battling COVID-19.  MSA is also rapidly expanding production of its Advantage® 200 respirator. Rene Burger, Global Manufacturing Engineering Manager for MSA, reports that the entire MSA Family has been working around the clock seven days a week since the pandemic started to ramp-up production.

MSA is also a customer of Engineered Printing Solutions.  EPS built a singlepass inkjet machine for the company, complete with inline corona pretreatment.  MSA chose a digital solution because they wanted the possibility of economical short runs, including the ability to mark parts with variable data such as an employee’s name or even blood type.

Are you in the safety equipment, food packaging, or medical device manufacturing business?  How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business?  Have you converted production to essential items?  Tell us your story!  And as always, if we can help contribute to your success, we are here for you.  EPS is open and filling orders for print consumables as well as machine orders.

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Manufacturing Responds to COVID-19 Pandemic

“The very first priority for manufacturers is to make sure that our workers, their families and their communities are safe and healthy,” he said. “Once we can ensure that that occurs, obviously we’re going to continue to ramp up production.”

—Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

By now, we have all seen our inboxes flooded with emails from every company we’ve ever done business with telling us how they are dealing with the coronavirus.  We’ve been guilty of it ourselves.  But beyond handwashing and physical distancing, how are companies manufacturing products in the “new normal”?

The COVID-19 pandemic has sent a huge shock through the manufacturing sector from a supply chain standpoint as well as on the demand side.  Whole industries have shut down.

But the need for some manufactured products has increased, particularly medical products necessary in the fight against the pandemic, and many manufacturers are retooling their lines to produce the products in demand.  For example, Ford has announced that it will be manufacturing 50,000 ventilators within 100 days.  General Motors has also teamed up with a Seattle-based medical device manufacturer to rapidly scale up production of ventilators.  According to the two companies, GM will provide logistics, purchasing, and manufacturing expertise, and will manufacture ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, facility.  GM will also manufacture surgical masks in its Warren, Michigan, facility.

Ventilator used in the fight against COVID-19. Image courtesy of Ventec Life Systems

The federal government awarded GM the contract to manufacture 30,000 ventilators by August at its Kokomo facility on April 8.  On April 14th, GM announced that 600 ventilators were ready to ship, that half the order would be ready by the end of June, and that the full order would be ready as promised.

Automakers are not alone.  AB InBev, maker of two out of every three beers in the world, is making hand sanitizer from surplus alcohol in its breweries around the world.  Bauer Hockey, the Canadian hockey equipment manufacturer, is making face shields.  The luxury goods conglomerate LVMH has converted production from its perfume plants to sanitizer production.  Even Giorgio Armani converted all of its textile factories in Italy to the manufacture of single-use medical overalls.  Prada is making face masks.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about manufacturers’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis is the speed with which companies have adapted and retooled.  The GM initiative came into being in only 48 hours, led by GM employees themselves.

But just exactly how do companies boost manufacturing production by a factor of two, or even five, or ten?  The answer is not obvious, and demonstrates both the fragility and the robustness of our manufacturing sector.

Few companies operate at 50 percent capacity.  Indeed, few could survive very long at such capacity rates.  So how have companies ramped up output so quickly in response to the coronavirus pandemic?

An obvious first place to start is by reducing the number of SKUs and converting production lines to the manufacture of SKUs deemed essential.  But beyond about 2X, other factors start to intrude.  The physical plant (number of assembly lines or the square footage of the factory floor) quickly becomes a constraint.  So too do upstream suppliers, who also maintain lean inventories.

The experience of the Seattle-based ventilator manufacturer is instructive.  When faced with the task of rapidly scaling production output, Ventec found that their suppliers were not responding to their requests for increased upstream supply.  Within half an hour of Ventec meeting with representatives from GM, GM’s suppliers in India visited Ventec’s Indian suppliers, and the bottleneck was resolved.

A similar story played out with GM’s domestic suppliers.  Twin City Die Castings Company manufactures pistons for GM cars.  With car part production sidelined, the company was casting about for ways to keep its workers employed.  The company realized that while they may not know much about the manufacture of ventilators, they knew a lot about the manufacture of pistons and cylinders to extremely tight tolerances.  As a result of intermediation on the part of General Motors, Twin Cities is supplying Ventec with pistons for ventilators, enabling Ventec to ramp up output by a factor of ten.

Here at Engineered Printing Solutions, we have long been a supplier of direct-to-object product-marking machines for the medical device industry, so it was only natural that when many of our existing customers began ramping up production that they would come to us.  One such company did so just last week.  So too have food processing and packaging companies.

EPS is proud to be part of the effort to beat this pandemic while still keeping its employees safe and employed.  We are here for you, so drop us a line, and let’s start a conversation!

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EPS Expedites Machine Delivery to Fight COVID-19

KP08 Catheter Printer

KP08 Catheter Printer

As we’ve noted before, many of our customers have been deemed “essential” in the fight against COVID-19.   Last week, one reached out to us to say that they had been contacted by the White House COVID-19 Task Force about dramatically ramping up production of medical devices in anticipation of enormous demand.  They wanted to know, could we deliver a catheter printing machine in two to three weeks?

EPS has built medical product printing machines for many customers, so the technical challenges were slight.  The greater challenges were logistical in the “new normal” of physical distancing.  How would we conduct the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT)?  How would we perform the standard installation, which usually involves sending a technician to the customer’s facility for onsite installation and training?

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every aspect of the global economy, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the manufacturing sector, where working from home just isn’t a possibility.  We’ve written in the past about our efforts to “flatten the curve” and keep our employees safe and healthy, and we are continuing to follow CDC and state guidelines as they evolve.  Our sales department is working from home but continuing to communicate with customers.  Our software engineers are also working remotely. Additionally, EPS is investigating opportunities under the CARES Act, passed by Congress to encourage companies to retain workers during the COVID-19 crisis, in order to ensure that we can continue to offer our full range of goods and services, from industrial inkjet printers and pad print machines to custom pad print pads and laser-engraved pad print clichés.  We have not reduced our workforce.  Our capabilities remain undiminished, and we will do everything we can to keep our team intact.

Our assembly department is also adopting best practices to discourage the spread of the virus.  Our production floor is large, as are our machines, so physical distancing has always been the case for us.  Similarly, nitrile gloves have always been standard equipment, since ink can be messy.  Isopropyl alcohol is a standard item found on every work bench.  Masks are available for any who wish to wear one.  In addition, we have adopted flex-time schedules, with some of our employees coming in to work in the evenings and on weekends.

Our curve-flattening measures seem to be paying off.  To date, not a single employee of EPS has tested positive for the coronavirus, and we have been able to provide an uninterrupted supply of print consumables.  We are also taking new machine orders and fulfilling existing orders.

In short, we are able to provide the full range of products and services that we always provide.  We will deliver the medical device-marking machine to our customer in the time-frame allotted, along with providing clichés with their artwork.  We have begun conducting FATs by video, and we have had the ability to remotely diagnose and service machines for years, so we continue to provide the after-sales service we pride ourselves on.

Life may never go back to as before, but some things won’t change.  Engineered Printing Solutions will still offer a complete range of industrial inkjet printers, pad print machines, ancillary equipment such as pretreatment systems, part-loading and –unloading automation, dryers, laser cliché makers, and other optional devices, as well as custom pad print pads, inks, and printing plates for your direct-to-object part-decoration needs.

Got a part-decorating challenge?  Drop us a line—let’s start a conversation!

Engineered Printing Solutions Serves Essential Industries

surgical safety maskAs the current COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, companies and individuals are struggling to determine how best to respond in a way that ensures the safety of us all but still bears some semblance of normal life.  Like everyone else, Engineered Printing Solutions struggles to reconcile multiple concerns for the safety of our employees as well as the need to provide uninterrupted service to our existing customers, and new machines to new customers.

To date, we have taken the following safety measures:

  • In compliance with CDC recommendations, EPS has instituted a liberal leave policy encouraging those employees who can to work from home.
  • All meetings are virtual; social distancing and hand washing are the norm for those who must go into our facility
  • Customer visits by sales engineers have been temporarily suspended, with videoconferencing in its place.
  • Similarly, on-site FATs have been replaced by video FATs.
  • In accordance with the California governor’s mandate, our Fremont facility is temporarily closed.

However, many of our customers manufacture products deemed essential for fighting the epidemic, such as medical device manufacturers, health & safety product manufacturers, and food packaging manufacturers, so EPS has had to balance the need for employee safety with our civic duty to ensure that our customers have the product-marking consumables necessary to continue and even ramp up production.  We continue to honor our commitment to providing impeccable service even in this difficult time.  We are following the New York state definition of “essential businesses,” which are defined as, among others:

Essential Health Care Operations, Including:

  • medical wholesale and distribution
  • medical supplies and equipment manufacturers and providers

Essential Manufacturing, Including:

  • food processing, manufacturing agents, including all foods and beverages
  • medical equipment/instruments
  • pharmaceuticals
  • telecommunications
  • microelectronics/semi-conductor
  • agriculture/farms
  • household paper products

The most important message EPS wishes to convey to the public is that, despite the need for social distancing, connection is more important than ever.  We will get through this viral epidemic, but only if we maintain the relationships that connect us all.  We are all in this together, and only by working together to ensure that supply chains remain unbroken and productivity remains efficient can we get through.  Engineered Printing Solutions is still here to help you change the way you print, so let’s keep the conversation going!

Stay well, everyone.