Concept2 has shut down all factory production in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but has tapped into their supply chain to procure 500,000 masks that they are distributing to healthcare facilities, grocery stores, and other local service providers that need masks.
We spoke with Concept2 mechanical engineer Trevor Braun about the effort on Friday afternoon, a couple days after the half-million masks had arrived in Morrisville and were already distributed around the area.
row2k: What inspired you and C2 to start this effort?
Trevor Braun: We looked into getting the raw material in from the suppliers that we normally work with in Asia to see if we could turn our production facilities to making masks. We found out that the raw material was unavailable because the governments were restricting export of the material, but that there were finished procedural masks available. They asked if we wanted to order those instead.
We called healthcare providers in the area and asked if that's the kind of mask they would be interested in, and they said yes, so we placed an order that day to get something in the works.
row2k: Can you describe the mask? Are these the N95 masks or something different?
Braun: They are not N95. Those masks are very difficult to source at this time. The masks we were able to procure are disposable 3-layer face masks with ear loops.
row2k: What does the supplier usually do with C2?
Braun: It was a supplier in Shanghai that we've been working with for over 25 years now. They source raw components for us in Asia, in China, and Vietnam; things like chains, sprockets, and some injection molded parts. They also act as our agent for importing into China; the ergometers are assembled here in Morrisville, and then ship them through the same company into China for the local distribution there.
row2k: What did it take to redirect your operations to make it happen?
Braun: Understanding the products and the nature of the situation in Asia has been our, the biggest struggle. Things are changing on a less-than-hourly basis. Glen Dwyer and our procurement team here in Morrisville have done an amazing job of working with our supplier in Shanghai to navigate all of the changes and make sure everything is documented correctly to avoid any delays in bringing in these supplies.
To avoid someone else taking our order of masks out from under us, our supplier sent someone to the factory the day our order was being produced. They watch the masks come off the line and then load them directly onto a truck to the airport.
row2k: This is a person with the Shanghai supplier?
Braun: Yes. They, along with our procurement team here have been doing all the heavy lifting with this project. They had to stay ahead of prices changing, packaging requirements changing and made sure our order didn’t get bumped down in the queue. We were in touch with them several times a day back and forth just checking in on the status of orders.
row2k: The masks were due to arrive mid-week; did that come together?
Braun: They landed yesterday morning, and we've actually been able to distribute just about all of the requests that we had come in the past week.
When we knew that the masks were in the air, we started reaching out to healthcare providers, nursing homes and doctor offices; really anybody we could think of to see if they had interest. We asked them to fill out a form requesting a certain amount, and we have been delivering and shipping orders the past two days. We're all caught up at this point.
row2k: How many have gone out?
Braun: Quite a few. Our main focus has just been in our surrounding community in Vermont because we have a lot of connections here, so we know who to reach out to. It has been great to see folks spreading the word to smaller organizations that would normally get overlooked.
row2k: Are you shipping the masks, or are C2 folks putting them in their cars and delivering them?
Braun: It is a combination. We have been driving delivering them to the local areas. If it's a little bit further, we just ship them. Our shipping team ships parts every day anyway, so it's not difficult for us to just ship out masks instead of spare parts.
row2k: What have you learned about the pandemic medical supply situation chain that you had no idea about or that other folks might be interested in?
Braun: We've really learned a lot. It's been a really busy few weeks trying to understand what the situation is in China with supplies and figuring out what the need is here in Vermont. It's not an easy thing to do for anybody to manage a public health crisis like this but it seems like the State is doing a good job of making sure supplies get to where they are needed.
We were connected with the team at the Department of Public Safety working on procuring supplies for all of the healthcare providers in the State of Vermont. Our procurement team was able to work with the State to place further orders with our supplier.
row2k: How are you managing the effort?
Braun: Concept2 purchased the first order of masks directly and we are donating them to the organizations who have expressed a need.
The suppliers are doing a lot of the work, and we've been fortunate to work with other companies in Vermont doing similar work. There's a company (Generator) making face shields using 3D printers. We worked with them to bring that design to one of our other suppliers in Taiwan. Our supplier was able to create production molds that allowed us to significantly scale up production of these face shields. We were extremely impressed at how quickly
row2k: Will you do another order for masks?
Braun: Based on the requests we have received so far and the rate of new cases here in Vermont, we don’t anticipate placing any further orders. We were able to pass on our contacts and knowledge to the State to allow them to place more orders directly with our suppliers.
row2k: At any point did you think these 500,000 masks wouldn't show up?
Braun: Every step of the way until they were on our dock. We've heard of many, other orders from companies trying to do the same thing getting held up for one reason or another.
row2k: Do you get to take at least one home for yourself?
Braun: I have a few of the original samples here that I have been using while making the deliveries.
row2k: Then you guys at least can work, deliver masks, and even go to the grocery covered up.
Braun: We will keep some here for our staff when we are all back at work. One of our technicians has been working on making improvements around the building to reduce contact point (motion light switches and toilet flushers). Face masks will certainly be a part of the strategy to be able get back to work safely here at C2 when the time comes.