Manufacturer uses lessons learned in China to keep production going

  • A worker in highly protective suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire, where production of medical devices to help meet the needs during the coronavirus are being ramped up at their factory.

      A worker in highly protective suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire, where production of medical devices to help meet the needs during the coronavirus are being ramped up at their factory. photos by Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Harold Sant, Flexan vice president/general manager, left, and Tony Orsini, chief operating officer, stand near a clean room window as workers assemble medical devices.

      Harold Sant, Flexan vice president/general manager, left, and Tony Orsini, chief operating officer, stand near a clean room window as workers assemble medical devices. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A worker in highly protective suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire where production of medical devices to help meet coronavirus outbreak needs is being ramped up at their factory.

      A worker in highly protective suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire where production of medical devices to help meet coronavirus outbreak needs is being ramped up at their factory. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A worker in highly protected suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire where production of medical devices to help meet the needs during the coronavirus are being ramped up at their factory.

      A worker in highly protected suit, gloves and mask works inside the clean room at Flexan in Lincolnshire where production of medical devices to help meet the needs during the coronavirus are being ramped up at their factory. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/16/2020 8:46 AM

Lessons learned from one of its plants in China is helping Lincolnshire-based manufacturer Flexan work to meet increased demand for its products needed by medical professionals to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 90 percent of the custom manufacturer's business is associated with medical devices, from molded rubber components that support valves in respirators and oxygen pumps to components in pacemakers and fully assembled catheters used for vascular access, according to Flexan CEO Jim Fitzgerald.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While the pandemic has forced some manufacturers to go idle in the U.S., it has also created an increased demand for the medical parts and supplies that Flexan makes.

"This includes increases for ventilator parts, which have surged by 800%, increases in parts for water filtration and other fluid monitoring, and increases in critical care catheters," Fitzgerald said via email.

In order to meet that demand, the company has adapted work procedures at its Lincolnshire and Chicago facilities to protect its employees from potential exposure to the virus by adopting procedures used at its Suzhou, China, plant when the pandemic began its spread there earlier this year, Fitzgerald said.

"Through the lessons learned on social distancing, use of protective apparel, wellness screening and extensive facility cleaning, we did not have any incidents of Flexan employees in China contracting the virus," Fitzgerald said.

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Additional steps the company has taken locally include adjusting shift schedules, reducing the number of people on a break at any time, and dedicating specific doors to specific groups of employees.

"Between our two locations in the Chicagoland area today, we only had two production staff call out of work, out of approximately 200," Fitzgerald said.

He added employees have embraced their work "as a call of duty at a time when our work is needed the most." A number of Flexan's 200 global customers have also stepped up to help support the company's operation.

"When the shelter in place order was issued, we received 16 letters from the leadership at our customers designating us as essential in support of their similar designation, and offering their support to help us keep our operations safe and active," he said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Flexan's goal is to continue to keep up with the demand for its parts and supplies to its customers, as well as others who require products it can make.

"I think our team, along with so many other people doing so many other good things, have embraced the fact that we are truly in this together," Fitzgerald said.

Stepping up

We've seen a number of suburban companies pitch in where they can to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing products and services, several companies are donating cash to help fund the battle. Among the most notable:

• Rosemont-based US Foods Holding Corp. donated $2.5 million in food and supplies to fight hunger. The donations equate to more than 150 semitruck loads of products. US Foods worked with Feeding America and other local charitable organizations across the country to distribute food such as meat, dairy, and produce and other nonfood supplies. The company also teamed up with Chef Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill to support his efforts to provide food and income relief for workers impacted by restaurant closures in Chicago.

• Horizon Therapeutics donated $500,000 to the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund and $500,000 to the Illinois Biotechnology Innovation Organization Institute's COVID-19 Response Fund. The Ireland-based pharmaceutical company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Lake Forest, will also provide another $500,000 in support to organizations in areas where the company has offices, including San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Dublin, Horizon President and CEO Timothy Walbert said.

• First Midwest Bank committed $2.5 million for aid in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the First Midwest Charitable Foundation, the Chicago-based bank used funds in support community and nonprofit partners. Among the areas funded include $750,000 to United Way chapters to mobilize COVID-19 emergency responses, and $1.75 million in general funds to local nonprofit organizations, including those aiding individuals and families with affordable housing and financial sustainability, as well as supporting small businesses

• Baird & Warner real estate services contributed $150,000 to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. The company said the donation will come from its philanthropic arm, Good Will Network, in partnership with the Stephen W. and Susan M. Baird Foundation.

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