[caption id="attachment_23831" align="alignright" width="278"] Dora Cheatham[/caption]
By Dora Cheatham
As my cat makes its way across my computer keyboard for the fifth time this morning, it is redundant to say that the last few weeks our lives have been thrown into disarray. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States at an alarming rate, more and more states are mandating that residents stay at home, enacting lockdowns and listing only certain workers as essential.
Among those workers are those employed in essential, critical infrastructure. Here in Delaware, several industries fall in that category: From chemical manufacturers to pharma companies, advanced materials to agrisciences, these companies are doing what they can to keep their employees safe while adapting to today’s needs. Says Erica Nemser, CEO of Compact Membrane Solutions, “As a company, we are all just trying to roll with the punches, do what we can to help in this time of crisis, keep our employees employed, and stay close to our customers and suppliers.”
While Dogfish Head Brewery has garnered well deserved attention for pivoting to hand sanitizer manufacturing, what fewer people realize or recognize is quite how many Delaware-based companies are quietly contributing to the critical COVID-19 value chain, more often than not operating on a skeleton staff. Companies like DuPont, CRODA, Dow, Air Liquide, Solenis – all with a presence here in Delaware – are doing their part to adapt their manufacturing output to support not only those on the front lines of the crisis, but also the health and wellness of the rest of us.
Another of these companies is Ashland. “Many of Ashland’s manufacturing sites produce specialty ingredients used in pharmaceuticals, personal care items, household products and nutritional, food and beverage products,” said Guillermo Novo, chairman and chief executive officer. “As such, our employees and manufacturing plants play a vital role in maintaining health and other activities necessary during a global pandemic response.”
Dow, which supplies materials for products such as sanitizers and disinfectants and PPE - is ramping production of hand sanitizer in Michigan, West Virginia, Belgium and Brazil, as well as repurposing existing Dow facilities while DuPont is significantly increasing production of the most needed PPE garments, with its Tyvek® operations running 24 hours/day at 19 production sites in nine manufacturing facilities throughout the world. These facilities are currently producing more than 9 million garments per month and prioritizing the needs of frontline workers.
CRODA products are critical supply chain materials in the manufacture of sanitizers, medicines and medical equipment, protective medical products and items used in the COVID-19 testing kits.
AirLiquide is increasing production and inventory of essential medical gases, while its subsidiary Air Liquide Medical Systems began tripling its production capacity to produce 1,000 ventilators. In additional, the company partnered with Groupe PSA, Schneider Electric and Valeo, to take up the challenge of producing 10,000 ventilators in just 50 days.
Meanwhile, as we walk around the supermarkets with empty shelves that should normally be holding toilet paper – yet another Delaware-based company – Solenis – is a key value chain supplier through its tissue & towel product line.
Among Delaware’s smaller companies, Halosil’s HaloMist™ - which forms part of its whole room disinfection system - has been added to the EPA’s List N for products with emerging pathogen and human coronavirus claims for use against SARS-CoV-2.
These are just a few – there are many more that are doing their part and not mentioned here. One thing is clear however: the priorities for companies are simple: Employee safety is first and foremost, followed by adapting to a new status quo.
Says Tim Mueller, VP of Operations at Delaware Innovation Space, “These are not typical business-driven outcomes. These are groups of scientists and technologists innovating and adapting to solve a problem. Every one of these outcomes is based on science and technology and it talks to where the country has to go to solve this crisis.” DESCA would like to acknowledge these scientists and technologists that assess their core capabilities and adapt them to provide innovative solutions that address immediate, critical problems.
Emerging from the Crisis - What Next?
What will follow as we emerge from this crisis remains to be seen. As companies begin to assess the economic impact of this crisis we may begin to witness – as we did in the aviation industry and its supply chain post 9/11 – a reassessment of future strategies to include business model shifts, innovation focus, operational shifts, and talent needs.
When it comes to the chemical industries, will the implementation of digital transformation as a means to reduce costs and increase value be accelerated? Can advanced analytics be used to inform future activities based on the learnings from this crisis as well as standard operations? Will remote working become more prevalent in the chemical industries and if so, how do companies ensure cybersecurity throughout their organization in what may become a new normal?
We ask you to join DESCA as we launch efforts to facilitate and discuss strategies for the chemical industries post-crisis, and let us know which discussions you'd like to engage in.
In the meantime, as Ms. Nemser says, “we are all just rolling with the punches.”
Dora Cheatham is executive director of the Delaware Sustainability Chemistry Alliance (DESCA).