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Companies work together to invent, produce PPE for Montana first responders

Posted at 2:07 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 16:07:35-04

MANHATTAN — Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a lifeline for first responders, doctors, and more right now.

A group of companies in Manhattan are combining forces and they are delivering both opportunities for jobs and priceless safety gear.

Face shields are a large requirement for healthcare providers right now for their own safety.

At Plastic Design and Manufacturing (PDM) as well as several other partners the word is ‘collaboration.’ They are making it happen here to make sure that healthcare workers across the state get exactly what they need.

“It’s all of these relationships that have now allowed this to happen,” says Mike Groff, president of PDM.

To Mike Groff and the rest of Plastic Design and Manufacturing in Manhattan, it takes the whole offense to win the game.

“This isn’t a normal product that we would normally produce,” Groff said. “We produce the injection molded products for local manufacturers, Mystery Ranch, Simms, Blackhawk. We also do international manufacturers.”

Groff says production of a new injection-molded face shield began this week.

“This one basically came as a result of Clay Ellig and Dave Ellig at Ascent Technologies basically understanding the demand that needed to be met,” Groff said. “They reacted in a very fast manner and they involved PDM and Blackhawk and Advanced Innovations to make this mold.”

Then COVID-19 changed the playbook.

“Two weeks ago, we weren’t in the face mask business,” Groff said. “Now we are, and we’ll produce this until the demand is met. We got an order of 5,000 of the face shields that we are running so we run 24 hours a day, five days a week.”

Face masks -- face shields, to be specific.

“It’s composed of five parts, basically,” said Darrin Strosnider, production manager at Ascent Vision Technologies in Belgrade. “Normally, we are making gyro-stabilized camera systems in the defense industry which is not anything like personal protection equipment.”

As demand grew, Groff and Strosnider became part of a team of four local companies with a game plan.

“The guys from Blackhawk designed the tool,” Groff said. “Advanced Innovations did the machining.”

“We were originally planning on doing maybe 200 to 500,” Strosnider said. “It grew quickly.”

And not by a little, “we’re putting as many as 5,000 together,” Strosnider said. “They are not only for the local hospital but also for first responders across the state.”

This is all being done in record time. “A normal mold design development takes 12, 14, 16 weeks,” Groff said. “This thing was turned around in a matter of two to three weeks.”

Each step forward brings other positives, according to Groff. For example, the rising demand for PPE means more jobs.

“We’re looking for a shift technician for the molding,” Groff said. “We are always looking for good operators.”

Strosnider says the mold, itself, comes from Clay and Dave Ellig at Advanced Innovations, another part of the wheel.

A collaboration that says there is more yet to come - Just like their conveyor belt keeps face shields on the line.

“We really found ourselves in a more difficult position because as the production manager, I kind of put this together to be able to build two to 500 of them and the demand was huge,” Strosnider said. “In order for us to produce these quickly and get them out to everybody, we had to look for an alternative.”

Groff says the workers from all four sides are heroes, of their own.

“It’s really about the people that are showing up and helping us make this vision and make these parts, making it all worthwhile.”

Another part of the team effort is Bridger Aerospace. The team says they are donating the ability to use their aircraft to transport PPE equipment to rural first responders, no charge.

“Everything is donated so we are covering the fees along with some of our partners that are helping us get some additional parts and pieces together for us,” Strosnider said. “When we finally get through this as a community, we’ve all learned more and have better skills and can provide even more maybe the next time something like this happens.”

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