DENHAM SPRINGS, La. (WAFB) - When the decision-makers at Gator Millworks, a custom cabinet manufacturer, decided to start making protective gear to help nurses and doctors, they knew their reach would be beyond Louisiana.
But what they probably didn't expect was to hear the voices of nurses in need. Those calls are the fuel behind their new production line.
The heavy machines in the Gator Millworks facility on Florida Boulevard in Denham Springs can process just about any material, not just cabinets and casework the guys at Gator Millworks are used to shipping out.
CEO Chad Foster says that’s due to his company using CNC equipment.
“We do a lot of commercial work in our industry, so it’s a lot of hospital casework,” Foster said. “We deal with plastic laminates and also do any kind of acrylics. We may not use it on a daily basis, but we do use it throughout the year.”
So Foster chose to use the machines in order to help the community. Foster got the idea to manufacture face shields for healthcare workers from an industry colleague about two weeks ago.
“About two hours later, we had a company-wide meeting talking about the product," he said.
Calls were immediately made to suppliers for raw materials like foam, elastic, and plastic. Robert Leiper, senior designer and engineer, says they buy the plastic in rolls.
“We’ve got the machinery to cut it into lengths of sheets," Leiper said.
An assembly line made up of helping hands has formed to make face shields.
“This was right in our wheelhouse to put together and it fits a need,” Leiper said.
The company hopes to make this process faster with automation by the end of the week, but the healthcare industry can’t wait, so workers got to work and built the shields by hand.
Then, the face shields are shipped across the country. Leaders of the company say they sent 2,000 in one order. Word of mouth seems to be working because since they started production last week, the calls for protection haven’t stopped.
“I remember getting a call from an ER nurse in New York City that needed masks or shields,” Leiper said. “When you get those calls, you understand the urgency.”
“We’ve had orders from all over the country come through here,” Foster said. “We’re looking to do more with that.”
Leiper says they plan to produce 1,000 shields per day by the end of the week.
Just as fast as they created the shields, they upgraded the hard hat for construction workers as well.
“The need is there also for the protection of the workers," Foster said.
“We can put people to work again,” Leiper said. “It makes the job sites safer.”
This pivot didn’t come without its challenges though, but it’s worth the extra handy work if it means people are spared.
“Nothing we’re going to run from. We’re going to run right at it,” Foster added.
When asked if manufacturing PPE could be a permanent product, the CEO responded, saying, “We are always ready to pivot. To say there wouldn’t be a Gator PPE division… I don’t think that wouldn’t be the case.”
Orders for face shields through Gator Millworks can be placed here.
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