ARLINGTON — The ventilators helping severely ill COVID-19 patients breathe have been a focus of health care responses to the disease, with states and hospitals clamoring for them.
Mack Molding, a custom plastics molder and supplier of contract manufacturing services based in Arlington, has stepped in to that effort. The company will produce ventilator components for a New England medical manufacturer through two new Haas three-axis machining centers acquired for that purpose.
"When this [COVID-19] crisis hit, they were asked to ramp up their ventilator production, and they came to us," company president Jeff Somple said of the customer, which he declined to name.
That was going to outstrip Mack Molding's capacity — so they decided to purchase the machining centers to meet demand.
And they moved quickly, Somple said — it was about three weeks from getting the request to having the machines set up on the floor.
The machining centers were delivered on Monday, the company said. The total cost for both, including set up, was $200,000, Somple said.
"We should actually be making parts within a week," he said.
The components Mack Molding will make are external parts, which are known as skins.
The metals department is supporting the project by making sheet metal parts, and the new machining centers will allow for machining of plastic components, as well as inserting.
Somple said he believes they'll be producing about 10,000 components a month, in an effort he expects will meet their customer's increased demand.
"We don't know beyond this crisis if their demand is going to stay as high," he said. "We still felt it was important that we do what we can."
"Our machining area has been growing, so I didn't feel too bad about pulling the trigger on this," he added.
Larry Hovish, director of communications for the company, said he believes this is the first time Mack Molding has worked on a ventilator.
The components produced will go only to that one customer for the foreseeable future, but there would "hopefully" be some additional capacity as well, he said.
Mack Molding has been involved in multiple COVID-19-related projects, Somple said. "It's what we need to do," he said.
They've helped Southwestern Vermont Medical Center get needed medical supplies, he said, including donating surgical masks, and a subsidiary of the company has also converted snorkeling masks to respirators.
A team at Synectic, a Connecticut-based subsidiary of Mack, adapted the full-face masks for hospital use by removing the part that functions as a snorkel and replacing it with a customized component equipped with cartridges that contain filters, according to a news release. The team fabricated the attachment after two weeks of design, testing and manufacturing.
"So far, it's kept us quite busy," Somple said of the company's efforts.
Mack Molding has done a lot of work for cost recently, but making the ventilator components will be for-profit, he said.
Somple said the plastics industry and the machining industry have responded "quite heroically" to the COVID-19 crisis, using their inherent changeability to respond quickly.
"We do a lot of work with medical companies — and everything has been, 'how fast can you get me more product?'" he said. "We're doing our best, and so far, so good."
So far, Somple said, they've been able to meet demand.
"We're concentrating on our essential customers," he said. "We're not doing work for our non-essential customers, so actually, our capacity has kind of just shifted into these products."
Mack Molding specializes in plastics design, prototyping, molding, sheet metal fabrication, full-service machining and medical device manufacturing, and was founded in 1920, according to the release.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter
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