WORTHINGTON, Minn. — As it turns out, the fight to limit America’s multiplying number of COVID-19 cases will likely be aided significantly by the efforts of a Worthington company.
Bedford Industries is poised to begin making more than 100,000 face shields each day, thanks to the speedy ingenuity of its staff. It already had the capacity to make between 25,000 and 50,000 such shields on Monday. The company has now also received the required registration for its product from the federal Food and Drug Administration — a process that can often take months.
So, just how did a company best known for being an international leader in twist-tie manufacturing become a key player in the battle to halt the transfer of coronavirus?
“We make the nose wire for a large majority of these face masks,” Bedford Industries President Jay Milbrandt said Monday morning. “We said, ‘If we’re going to a make a face mask itself, this is the time to do it.’”
So, last week, the Bedford Industries production, research and development and design teams watched a video of hospital employees struggling to construct “face masks and face shields out of office supplies to make covers for their N95 respirators,” Milbrandt described in a Facebook post.
“We said, ‘We can’t do the N-95 face mask, but we could do essentially the face mask cover,” Milbrandt said. “We called a group together and sent this video clip along and said ‘let’s talk in the morning.’
“We cleared a couple of production lines … and our goal was to have a production-ready prototype by the end of the day. This was on a Thursday morning and we did that — actually, we ended up with two prototypes. One looks more like a traditional face mask, and the other looks more like a shield; it’s a clear plastic shield that covers the entire face.”
Soon after he posted about the company’s prototype on social media, Mibrandt said Bedford Industries started “getting inundated with calls and emails.” Hospitals, health care providers and others shared the consensus that the face shield could do the most good.
Milbrandt said the company simply could not start offering a medical device without its proper federal registration, noting that Bedford Industries has made “components that go into medical devices” but not medical devices themselves. However, given the high interest and need, help came almost immediately.
“We had people come out of the woodwork to help us with this,” Milbrandt said. “Sanford Health System has been incredibly helpful; their supply chain and legal department has been helping navigate the process. … We have a consulting firm that has stepped up out of New York that has been helping us with the process as well.”
Slight changes were made to the shield to make it a “little longer and a little wider” after feedback from medical professionals. In the meantime, Bedford Industries sent out trucks to gather needed raw materials for the shields. The company was making prototypes Monday on its laser cutter in batches of a dozen, and Milbrandt said some of those would be given to local first responders and essential services in or near Worthington that had reached out and asked for them.
‘Obviously, we’re going to work very closely with Sanford and our regional people, but want to get these out to people who need them most,” Milbrandt said.
“We can’t make enough to just supply the U.S.,” he added, “but in the long run, I think we’ll continue improving the product and it will become a new product for us. I anticipate that what we’re doing is something we’ll be doing for a long time. We expect there to be some bugs getting started, but we have the best team in the world.”
Meanwhile, Bedford Industries plans to keep making all of its other products while launching its new face shield, which is already being sought by the U.S. Army and a host of other American entities. The company is also trying to distance its people where it can and keep its employees as healthy as possible, Milbrandt said.
“It’s not exactly business as usual, but we’ve got to keep going,” he said. “Everything we make is somehow essential. … We’re going to dedicate as much of our capacity as we can. We’ve got to keep bread on the shelves and produce in the grocery stores, too.”
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