By: Jeannette DeForge
Article Credit: MassLive
HOLYOKE — A company that specializes in specialized plastic packaging has joined in the fight to prevent the coronavirus from spreading to already-taxed health care workers.
Employees at Walter Drake Inc. have gone from making clamshell packaging for electronics, blister packages for pharmaceuticals and trays for many uses to making much-needed plastic face shields for doctors, nurses and others who come in close contact with people suffering from COVID-19, said Joseph Feigen, company owner.
After watching the news night after night and hearing about shortages of medical equipment, company officials agreed they wanted to do something to help.
“We looked around at our technical capabilities and said what are we equipped to do with no QA (quality assurance) issues,” Feigen said. “What materials do we have in-house now?”
Designing and manufacturing face shields was obvious for the thermoforming business. After all, the 58-year-old company designs and manufactures plastic packaging to meet specific needs. For example, once it was contracted to make a clamshell packaging for table saw blades that had to be sturdy enough to carry the sharp objects, easy enough for a carpenter to open but impossible for a child to open them in a store, he said.
Walter Drake also does a lot of packaging for medical equipment and had a clean room for that purpose, although it is not needed for the shields, Feigen said.
It typically takes the company six to nine months from the time it is contracted to engineer a design and begin production. In this case, it brought in people from different departments and fast-tracked the work since medical workers need the equipment now.
“Four and a half days later we had a production-quality design,” Feigen said. “In the third week in March we were ready to go.”
The shield is professional looking and is designed as one size fits all, but has Velcro straps to make it adjustable. After a little trial and and error, company employees modified the original design and it now has a foam headband so it can be produced faster, Feigen said.
“It is light, surprisingly light, and they are easy to put on and they stay on,” he said, adding at first it feels odd to wear one but it doesn’t take long to get used to it.
The company first marketed the shields to local hospitals and other medical facilities but officials told them they had enough. They then started reaching out to larger facilities farther away that had been hit hard by people infected with COVID-19. Walter Drake have been selling them in orders typically of 10,000 or more.
Producing the shields keep the company’s about 25 employees working. The company continues to produce other things such as medical packaging.
The process to make the face shields is highly automated, but a typical production-line process that would have several employees working together on different parts has been suspended to allow social distancing and keep workers safe, Feigen said.
The building itself is large enough so employees have plenty of room between each other and all employees are there voluntarily. If the demand grows, Feigen said his company can expand to add an extra shift.
“We are trying to be a good business,” he said.