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State manufacturers press on while waiting for regional consortium

Katie Tabeling

While the agreement for seven Northeast states to buy medical and protective equipment from each other has been slow to kick off, Delaware manufacturers are moving full steam ahead to meet exploding demand.

With face masks and other protective gear scarce, Gov. John Carney joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to band together to buy the equipment needed to fight coronavirus. The idea is to aggregate orders with seven states, stabilize the supply chain — and identify suppliers to meet that demand.

Face Shield produced by Polymer Technologies Inc. | Photo c/o Polymer Technologies Inc.

Three weeks later, state officials said that the regional purchasing consortium is just beginning its work. But in the meantime, Halosil International and ILC Dover are focusing on meeting demand across the country. Others like Polymer Technologies Inc. reimagined production on face shields.

“There’s always a new risk with a new market and you invest millions in equipment, and in this case, you’re competing against China for cheap labor. We’re a small business, our margins are as small as we can get them,” said Jarred Prybutok, Polymer executive vice president and chief operating officer.

During the pandemic, the state’s health care systems’ stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical gear grew smaller and competition grew fierce. Hospitals’ needs changed on a week-by-week basis while they joined the fray to buy supplies for their facilities.

The state Division of Public Health and the Office of Management and Budget’s Government Support Services (GSS) worked its network of existing vendors. GSS “aggressively” reached out to the marketplace to source products and to out-of-state vendors when opportunities arose.

Delaware also started soliciting donations, and local manufactures have answered the call. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is producing up to 200 to 400 gallons of hand sanitizer per week, and several local distilleries are doing the same. Down south, Sound FX Home Theater and Car Audio made thousands of face shields for Delaware hospitals.

“As [the need] continues, we will work with in-state manufacturers to source,” an OMB wrote in an email. “Where locals have been unable to provide requested items, we’ve looked to the market regionally as well as throughout the country for qualified vendors.”

As it stands today, some Delaware companies have ramped up production to meet not only the demand in-state but beyond its borders.

Halosil International, a small disinfection system manufacturer based in New Castle, has exponentially boosted production of its fogger machine that sterilizes rooms since January.

Chris Ungermann, CEO of Halosil, told DBT that back in January the company was working hard to fill HaloFogger orders in China and Europe, but since March it’s been “running flat out and backordered” due to the domestic demand.

Halosil International’s HaloFogger. | PHOTO COURTESY OF HALOSIL

“We’ve increased the magnitude of production by 10 to 20 times because of sheer demand here,” Ungermann said. “We’re in various states at this point, because there’s multiple requests to decontaminate state courthouses, police stations and first responders’ spaces and prisons.”

Right before coronavirus virus spread through the East Coast, the company added another line to its Fort Washington, Pa., production facility. That paid off as Halosil had to fill thousands of orders in the next 15 weeks.

ILC Dover in Frederica has hired 50 people to meet the demand for its air-purifying respirator system, since production has been up 30% since January. The Sentinel XL respirator system requires a hood to connect to a blower and an air filter, but once the supply chain broke down, ILC Dover designed and engineered a new part to meet it.

“We may not be in the top five to 10 things that states struggle to find, but we’re here and willing to help,” said Fran DiNuzzo, CEO of ILC Dover. “We haven’t heard anything on a state partnership, but we’re ready to direct services as needed.”

In Newark, Polymer Technologies Inc. shifted to face shields in the last few weeks. The company manufactures noise reduction materials and molded foam products, ranging from insulators in food blenders to Boeing airplanes.

“We literally had the foam, the plastic and the elastic here. The one problem we do have is it’s not automated labor. We have a high-speed cutter, but you have to do it by hand,” Prybutok said.

Still, Polymer can assemble “a few thousand” face shields per shift with four to six employees. Roughly 6,000 face shields have been purchased by Bayhealth Hospital.

With the details of the regional purchasing consortium still left to be worked out, Delaware Prosperity Partnership President and CEO Kurt Foreman hopes for a chance for Delaware to share in the economic opportunities.

“There’s already some good stories out there, and if this kind of equipment is needed for more than a few months, and it likely is, you may see more companies doing their part on a more permanent basis,” Foreman said.

Delaware has already proven to be a powerhouse manufacturer with claims like heavy hitters DuPont and Gore, but there’s homegrown companies like ANP Technologies developing its own tests that Foreman said are being reviewed as possible options.

When it comes to large-scale manufacturing, Delaware has limited options in available warehousing without building a new one. But if the market is shifting for a more regionalized approach, that could spur more need.

“It may go that way, and the days of the long supply chain may have faded as a popular strategy,” Foreman said. “I’d love to see Delaware capitalize on its roots as a manufacturer, and our location definitely helps that.”

-Katie Tabeling


Editor’s note: This article incorrectly said that Polymer Technologies Inc. donated face shields to Bayhealth, instead of selling them. We regret the error.

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