Manufacturing must be resilient even at the most uncertain of times. The world depends on the products these businesses produce. New Jersey manufacturing is the embodiment of resilience. The industry’s perseverance in the face of the COVID-19 disaster is a testament to this fact.
Through the efforts of NJMEP and the entire New Jersey manufacturing community, every manufacturer in the state is considered essential. Manufacturers can remain open despite other businesses being forced to close. This is to ensure the country can continue to receive essential products people need to weather the fight against the coronavirus.
A few New Jersey manufacturers and educators stand out. Read below to be introduced to incredible companies and people making a difference.
Mitch Cahn, CEO Unionwear
Mitch Cahn, CEO Unionwear jumped at the opportunity to help. The company started manufacturing and providing a critical service. His facility manufactures apparel and custom promotional materials in Newark, New Jersey. Being in the textile field, Unionwear was at a unique advantage to begin manufacturing PPE equipment. Unionwear is now manufacturing face shields and isolation gowns alongside their regular products.
“We are still getting orders for our regular products from businesses,” Cahn said in an interview with NJMEP. He believes this is happening because nobody else is available to manufacture their core set of products in the USA. Customers are hesitant to turn to China. He continued by saying, “NJMEP pulling for the manufacturing industry is going to be huge. Unemployment will be a bigger problem in New Jersey, the smartest thing the state has done in a while is listening to NJMEP about maintaining the manufacturing base.”
Unionwear made a massive discovery amidst this pandemic. They thought it would be impossible to allow manufacturers to work from home. However, about 40 out of their 180 employees have access to sewing machines. This allows the company to inform its employees about what work needs to be done and then they work from home to produce the products. Their workforce drops off the completed products at the facility at the end of the day. This is an incredibly innovative way to keep production moving forward while going above and beyond to abide by social distancing measures to keep their workforce safe and healthy.
For a more in-depth look at Unionwear’s effort, Mitch Cahn spoke at length about the experience on the podcast, The Righteous Capitalists. Find the full episode, here.
Newton High School Robotics Team Coach and Thorlabs, Inc.
Jim Hofmann, STEM teacher at Newton NJ High school, and the coach of the Varsity Robotics Team answered a call from a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School student to make Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Specifically, they needed face shields for healthcare workers. Jim Hofmann took on the challenge and the NJ high school robotics team began to collaborate with private and public sectors and incorporated 3D printing technology to help ease the face shield shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this crisis, it’s all hands on deck, and great to see everyone come together in the effort” Hofmann stated. He continued, “If any business or school has spare 3D printing capacity, we could sure use your help.” Hofmann explained.
Hofmann’s efforts are supported by his daughter Samantha, wife Mandy, and sister Christine. This team continues to support Jim to provide 24/7 support to ensure this initiative is successful. Mark Maruska & Adam Zuidema have both played essential roles, providing materials and laser etcher expertise. With so many different partners and volunteers, it would be impossible for him to keep up on his own.
The effort has been named “PPE Made in the USA,” and its goal is to locally manufacture 1,000 face shields. Hofmann and his team reached out to his network of STEM partners describing the initiative and the materials that were needed. Alex Cable, CEO of Thorlabs, Inc, Newton-based optical equipment company was the first to respond. Cable committed his engineering staff to prototype headband samples, and then output the headbands on his company’s 3D printers. Thorlabs even helped source PETG .02, a sheet of tough plastic material that is used to complete the face shields.
“In the days ahead as we put this pandemic behind us; I hope our legislators truly seriously consider, with some measure, a way to partner with the public schools to foster startups that add value such as our varsity robotics teams that FIRST engages all year long.”
“Collaborating with a global supply network and sharing it with my online student learning platform are teaching the Newton, NJ students how we can utilize cutting edge technology to solve a real-world problem,” Hofmann continues, “If nothing else; its crystal clear that we need to bring back those offshore jobs in making things. Robotics can help do that. Developing an automated supply chain and sharing it nationally as we do during our robotics competitive season is the way we need to go.”
To learn more about the “PPE Made in the USA” initiative or to see all those involved in this effort, you can read the official press release, here.
Mike Seitel, CEO Norwalt Design
No manufacturer can avoid the pressures and constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Norwalt Design is limiting the number of people they allow into the facility and everyone that can work remotely is staying home. Mike Seitel explained that a lot of engineering depends on collaboration. When engineers are separated from each other, it eliminates much of that collaboration potential. Orders are slowing but they’re not sitting back waiting for these trends to reverse themselves. They want to be part of the solution.
Markforge reached out to Norwalt to see if they’d be interested in helping fight back against the COVID-19 threat. Healthcare workers are in serious need of critical PPE and Mike Seitel was excited to help. Combining resources between Norwalt Design and Markforge, the company can now produce face shields to help protect healthcare workers as they battle COVID-19.
“I’d like to thank all of our employees that are pitching in in the effort to help. We are a small player so hopefully, if all of us small players do our part we can help support our medical staff in a big way.“ Seitel stated.
They have every available staff member helping assemble the face shields. Efforts like these will ensure the country has enough PPE to make it through this deadly disruption. Without keeping manufacturers like Norwalt Design open, there would be little hope of producing these kinds of essential products.
New Jersey ‘Manufacturing Cares’
This is only three examples of people going above to help in a time of crisis. Every day more and more manufacturers are coming out in support of their local community, and helping support their country as a whole. Without these businesses, healthcare workers wouldn’t have the PPE they need, food wouldn’t continue to flow through the supply chain, life-saving medicine would dry up, and countless other devastating disruptions would take place across the nation and around the globe.
Do you have a story to tell? Reach out to Michael Womack, NJMEP Marketing Outreach Coordinator to have your company highlighted in this article.