Universal Plastics shifts to face shields, intubation boxes as aerospace, elective surgeries decline

Universal Plastics – Albany is making 1,000 face shields a day for hospitals, nursing homes and fast-food workers to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

Engineers at the Howes Cave company also have begun producing acrylic intubation boxes to protect physicians and health care workers from infection while they connect coronavirus patients to ventilators.

The plastics manufacturer shifted production at its Schoharie County factory last month as demand for products used in aerospace and elective surgeries started to decline.

“We decided to pivot because we just aren’t making any interior parts for the airlines right now,” said Pia Kumar, co-owner and chief strategy officer.

Universal Plastics is headquartered in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and operates five factories in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company was founded by Kumar and her husband, Jay Kumar, eight years ago. They acquired the 100,000-square-foot Schoharie County plant, formerly known as Kintz Plastics, in May 2018.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kumars spent two years growing the New York site by increasing production, installing new equipment and moving excess work from a plant in Massachusetts. The couple also expanded the payroll from 80 to 100 workers during that time. The companywide payroll is about 400.

Revenue in Schoharie County had grown over the past two years until orders began a sharp decline as the pandemic forced the state to order many companies and employees to stay home.

Aerospace business has declined about 50% since then and medical business has decreased by 15% to 20%, Pia Kumar said. But she expects the company’s traditional medical business will pick back up as soon as hospitals begin performing more elective surgeries.

Universal Plastics – Albany makes plastic covers for medical imaging and diagnostic lab equipment in addition to interior parts for airplanes and passenger rail cars.

As orders in its main business began to decline, the company’s engineering and management team decided to shift to protective gear to help address a shortage as the virus spread across the country.

Many of the face shields have been donated. And the intubation boxes are being sold at cost.

“It’s a way to keep our people busy,” Kumar said.

It also has given employees a morale boost to know they are helping during a time of crisis, she said.

To help address a decline in orders, the company has cut spending on inventory and other expenses, while managing to avoid reductions on labor and benefits, Kumar said.

The company applied for funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program but has not yet been able to get any assistance.

There has been strong demand for face shields and intubation boxes from more than 20 hospitals, plus nursing homes and elder care centers, Kumar said. The company also has donated face shields to some fast-food restaurants through the help of some nonprofit organizations. Kumar would like to find other fast-food companies who are looking for shields.

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