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Protecting Those Who Help Protect Us

Wepco Plastics adds end-to-end manufacturing capabilities for plastic face shields to help fill the dire need for PPE for essential workers.

 

Wepco Plastics

Like many small, family-owned businesses, when the pandemic hit in early March, Wepco Plastics' ownership and employees were scared of the uncertainty such a situation brings about. Designated as an essential business themselves, the management team at Wepco Plastics, located in Middlefield, Connecticut, received a plea from Connecticut governor, Ned Lamont, who expressed the state's dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE).

"We were really putting our heads together here at Wepco to think of ways that we could help meet this need," said Amanda Wiriya, manufacturing support manager at Wepco. "We were already a medical parts manufacturer but how could we do something specific to PPE?"

While Wepco was already manufacturing critical medical parts that are used by other manufacturers to produce finished devices and equipment, they weren't manufacturing any finished medical units, a challenge that comes with its own set of production requirements. So Wiriya, along with Charles Daniels, Wepco CFO, reviewed the list of needed equipment to determine what they could produce the fastest, in the highest quantity in their building—and at a competitive price point. Within 36 hours, Wiriya established sourcing and placed orders for raw materials needed to create plastic face shields. And, within a week, prototype shields were rolling off a newly-established assembly line.

Wepco Plastics

 

Powering the process

How does a company that doesn't produce finished medical devices quickly shift gears to be able to do so? One of the first steps was to hire additional staff and establish a "clean room" for sanitized production. While part of the team converted the front office into a fully clean environment, Wiriya got to work on staffing. Even before the request for PPE, Wepco's molding business was expanding and they were in the process of adding staff. At a time when other businesses were forced to lay off or furlough workers, Daniels was proud to be able to invest in the Middlefield community by adding seven employees—a workforce increase of more than 19 percent.

Wepco Plastics

As processes were refined during the first week of assembly-line production, staff worked two 8-hour days to produce the prototype shields. This prototype supply was donated to individuals, correctional officers and local hospitals. Now, face shields are assembled four days per week/10 hours per day by six employees working on two assembly lines. This labor force produces 5,000 face shields per day and 20,000 per week, which are going to hospitals, correctional facilities, restaurants, nursing homes, daycares, police and firefighters, to name a few.

Wepco is keeping costs low at under $2 per shield for most quantities—about 30 percent below other U.S. manufacturers. They did this by keeping profits to a bare minimum and carefully balancing labor and materials costs.

"As we were considering our options for producing the shields, it was our goal to offer these quickly and at the lowest price point we could," Daniels said. "We wanted to be able to help during this pandemic, but we weren't looking to drive up profits through these efforts."

 

Working hand-in-hand

Wiriya attested that the personal relationships Wepco has built with others in the manufacturing industry and beyond have meant everything during this crisis. Because of established contacts and strong relationships, she was able to quickly establish sourcing for the individual components to make the shields—much of which came from the state or region. In fact, manufactures across the Northeast pulled together to address the needs in the region, so that no one entity was working in a silo and all were able to work at maximum efficiency and output.

"It's been a great story for the manufacturing community," Wiriya said, adding "we knew that it was essential for us to come together and work together—even those of us who may compete for some of the same market share."

Wepco Plastics

Wepco is working directly with one of its competitors to purchase cut plastic pieces and has partnered with another competitor, who also decided to produce face shields, to help them source materials and refine production and assembly.

 

Wepco Plastics

 

"We've learned a lot from each other, sharing tips and efficiencies on the production of these shields via Zoom," Wiriya said. "The industry realizes that we can make more of an impact doing this together than each of us would by going out and doing this separately."

 

Protecting employees and their families

Being able to step up and make a difference during the pandemic in their region and beyond is something that Wepco has been preparing for over the past several years. With a constant focus on building their corporate culture and ensuring the safety of their employees, they have been able to cultivate and retain a happy and healthy workforce. With the additional considerations brought about by the pandemic, the company has quickly responded to instill confidence in its employees that coming to work is safe.

 

Let our response to this pandemic be greater than what it can take from us. The #Manufacturing community has stepped up; we will not slow down.

– Sydney Hebert, Creative Development Coordinator, Wepco Plastics

 

From adding hand sanitizers to every machine and common area, to splitting production shifts in half so that less people are in the building at one time, to outlining "yellow brick roads" around the facility to designate appropriate spacing between employees, Wepco has fostered an environment that makes employees feel safe and confident about coming to work.

In addition to employee safety, the company has also focused on employee morale, knowing that happy employees are a key to their success. From ordering out meals for employees on site, to providing gift cards to local restaurants so that they can treat their families, the company is continuously finding ways to make sure that employees know they're valued.

Wepco Plastics

"During this pandemic, those of us not on the assembly lines don't stay home or hide in an office. We check in every day to make sure that each employee who comes into the facility has a direct line of communications to management—and knows that they can come to us with any concerns at any time," Wiriya said.

As Daniels attests, the current situation has given Wepco employees the platform to truly embrace and live out the corporate values in every way possible: "As a small, family-owned company, we have always tried to be incredibly proactive and to do more, do the right thing, keep improving and have a positive impact in our community."

From hiring locally, to sourcing raw materials locally, to investing in local businesses, to now providing PPE to local organizations in need, Wepco is honored to make this positive impact as an essential manufacturing business.

 

Wepco is continuously seeking sourcing for additional raw materials, staffing and partnerships to continue to produce the maximum output on shields to meet the state's needs—and beyond. For more information, please contact Amanda Wiriya at Wepco Plastics.

Wepco Plastics, Inc., in conjunction with Connect Energy Resources, is a valued Direct Energy Business customer.

 


 

 

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