Lakeshore manufacturers refocus to provide essential products

From making medical masks to ventilator parts, dozens of Lakeshore companies are stepping up in these challenging times. 

They are coming up with innovative ways to equip hospitals, health care systems and the front line of doctors, nurses, first responders, and other critical infrastructure workers in this battle against COVID-19, says Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage.

“We admire these employers’ ingenuity, flexibility, and coming to the rescue to solve problems and fill needs,” Owens says, adding that a lot of credit goes to the company’s workforce. “We thank those employees for the work they are doing and recognize the difference they are making.”

Reconfiguring operations

Several companies — including Herman Miller, Nuvar Manufacturing and Hybrid Machining Inc. — are reconfiguring operations to make face masks and other safety equipment. 

JR Automation worked with GM to build a mask assembly line in metro Detroit in just six days, while the logistics team at Inontime quickly delivered sneeze guards to all 248 Meijer stores in the U.S. 

Hybrid Machining, Inc. has become a pick-up and drop-off point for face masks. They are running their machines nonstop to produce more face masks and COVID-19 test swabs.

Primera Plastics began making disposable face shields, while start-up company Solismatica is activating 3D printers statewide to make face shields, masks, and ventilator parts. 

Hemco Gage is producing mission-critical precision metrology tools for manufacturers making or tooling up to manufacture personal protective equipment, ventilators, respirators, hospital beds, and more.

Business responsibilities

Lakeshore Advantage recently hosted a webinar about the responsibilities of essential business. It featured Scott Corbin and Nick Bonstell, directors of emergency management for Allegan and Ottawa counties, respectively. 

Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, only 19 essential and critical industries can continue to operate in the short term. 

Businesses that want to do essential work are required to submit a document explaining their support role to that critical infrastructure. And their employees are being asked to carry letters in their cars explaining their role. 

“If there's not a line or manufacturing process that supports that, it should not be operating. Those employees should be sent home, making sure only the central services of that institution are running,” Corbin says in the recorded webinar. 

Ensure social distancing

He added that those who continue to operate under the guidelines must take steps to ensure social distancing, such as making sure people are separate from one another on the line, as well as in cafeterias and break rooms. Those responsibilities include putting in safeguards and protections for the workforce, such as monitoring and screening employees as they come to work to ensure that they don't have a virus that can impact operations.

Both emergency managers recommend screening employees by doing site temperature checks as they are coming through the door and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. 

“Even truck drivers bringing shipments in and out, and signing paperwork," says Bonstell, who recommends having a small towel to wipe off pens. "Small things like that can really help in reducing the transmission of this virus."

‘Clean Team’

Plascore is an example of a company going the extra mile to provide a safer environment for its workforce by hiring a 15-person “Clean Team” to work around the clock. The crew is made up of furloughed restaurant workers and college students. 

Plascore is going the extra mile to provide a safer environment for its workforce by hiring a 15-person “Clean Team” to work around the clock. The crew is made up of furloughed restaurant workers and college students.

Now full time at the Zeeland manufacturer, those employees are earning $14 an hour. They are tasked with cleaning all community surfaces, such as drinking fountains, door handles, and tables.

"I've heard from several employees who thanked us for going above and beyond for them," says Director of Human Resources Kate Tejeda.

In business for more than 40 years, Plascore has a workforce of more than 450 employees and manufactures honeycomb core, a product used by several industries, including ones deemed essential such as transportation and the military. 

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t slowed down orders, so the company is currently hiring for a variety of positions. 

"We are fortunate that we're busy,” Tejeda says. 

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.