Duro-Last Quickly Retools to Manufacture Medical Supplies During Pandemic

Duro-Last reformulated its flexible PVC membranes and retooled equipment to manufacture medical gowns and masks to help hospitals facing equipment shortages. Photos: Duro-Last

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, hospitals all over the world found themselves facing critical shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). The state of Michigan was hit hard by the virus, and as news of critical supply shortages hit the media, team members at Saginaw, Michigan-based Duro-Last, Inc., came together determined to figure out a way to help.

According to Duro-Last CEO Tom Saeli, the group quickly developed a plan to manufacture medical PPE. “The genesis was that a small group of employees got together — people from engineering, sales, manufacturing, and R & D — and they were well aware of the crisis and the dire need for medical personal protective equipment at the hospitals. They got together on their own accord and came up with the idea to try to make medical gowns and non-surgical masks using our materials, processes and equipment.”

The meeting happened on Friday, March 20, and the group continued to work on it the next day. “On Saturday, they called me and said, ‘We’re making these because we know there’s a need,’” Saeli recalls. “I can’t take credit for any of this.”

Saeli, a member of the board of trustees at Beaumont Health, was in the perfect position to connect the team with the hospital. “We are well aware that Beaumont was the epicenter of the crisis in southeast Michigan for COVID-19 patients,” says Saeli. “I called them on Saturday, told them what we were doing, and the rest happened very quickly.”

Initial designs for masks and gowns were based on photos and schematics in the public domain. “Our people went up and down I-75 with gown and mask designs over the next few days, and they really nailed down a design that worked for Beaumont. By the following Friday, we were manufacturing product.”

Meeting a Need

The company, well known for manufacturing flexible PVC roofing membranes, converted equipment normally used to make roofing products for another use. “We have some very creative, clever people,” Saeli says. “Because we do so much custom fabrication, we were able to retool some of our equipment to manufacture this design for gowns and masks.”

The non-surgical masks, made from polyester and PVC, are washable and reusable. The gowns are made from flexible, transparent PVC and can be sanitized and reused.

The membrane itself was reformulated. The hospital gowns are made from flexible, transparent PVC that is 6 mils thick. The gowns are water- and fluid-repellant, and they can be sanitized and reused. The masks, made from polyester and PVC, can be washed and reused. Feedback from the hospital has been overwhelmingly positive. “There’s a big demand,” Saeli says. “We’re getting calls from all over the country for gowns and masks. There is also a trend for wearing masks in everyday life, including at jobsites, so the demand is just going to continue to increase. We are manufacturing 24 hours a day right now at our Saginaw plant, and it’s keeping more than 60 people employed.”

Duro-Last is looking to expand the capability to its seven plants across the country, but profit is not a motivator in this case. “We didn’t enter this for financial gain,” Saeli says. “We aren’t making a profit on this. We just did it because we saw a need that had to be served. It does help to employ some people, which is great as well. But the profit we are getting is an emotional profit, if you will. We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to be doing right now.”

The tight time frame to get the designs approved and equipment ready was probably the biggest challenge, according to Saeli. “It was the fastest product development I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The team just powered through any issues that came up. The mindset of our employees is to be very entrepreneurial, which goes back to our founder, John R. Burt. We are unique in our industry. We are the only ones who do custom fabrication. We’ve got a very entrepreneurial spirit that we encourage all the time. The DNA of our business is to take on challenges and come up with new ideas.”

As the products are being made, the company is taking precautions to ensure they are being manufactured safely. “For the last five weeks, we’ve been practicing social distancing,” Saeli notes. “We’ve been taking everyone’s temperature with a thermal forehead scanner when they come in and throughout the day. We clean and sanitize all of our equipment. We had our plant professionally disinfected. We are trying to do everything in our power to protect our employees.”

Duro-Last is encouraging other companies join the fight. “We had a call with SPRI, which includes many manufacturers in the industry, including our competitors, and we spoke with 25 people from around the county to tell others what we did, share our design with them, and encourage other companies to get involved any way they could in their local markets.”

The company is sharing the news with the media for the same reason. “We wanted to demonstrate to others that if a roofing manufacturer could do something, everyone else should look at it as well,” Saeli says. “We are sharing our story to encourage others to jump in and help any way they can.”

Duro-Last Produces Medical Personal Protection Equipment in Fight Against COVID-19

Hospitals across the globe are experiencing critical PPE supply shortages. Team members at Duro-Last, Inc., found a way to help. Duro-Last engineers, product development and manufacturing staff united to fabricate and manufacture isolation gowns and face masks. Utilizing expertise in manufacturing flexible PVC and fabrics, the team went from prototype to production to delivery in one week. 

The gowns are made from flexible PVC, making them water- and fluid-repellant. The masks are washable and reusable, made from polyester and PVC. Duro-Last reformulated products and retooled processes to manufacture these supplies. 

“This is about helping health care professionals in any way we can and at the same time keeping people employed,” said Tom Saeli, Duro-Last CEO. “I am very proud of and impressed by the people in our company who quickly developed these products. Our country is full of tremendously smart, entrepreneurial people who can bring timely solutions to this unprecedented need. The need is real and I believe it’s our obligation to act now. If the efforts of our team inspire just one other company to join this fight, it will be worth it.”

For more information about Duro-Last, visit www.duro-last.com.