Industry News

How AIMCAL members are meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic head-on: Results of business Impact Survey

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Business impact survey shows positive outlook,
work to assist in response efforts outweigh
today’s current declines.

 
By Editor-in-Chief Mark A. Spaulding
 
Depending on what materials your company converts, and what end-use markets you serve, the business climate for Roll-to-Roll (R2R) manufacturing products and services is starting to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
That’s the 30,000-ft overview of responses to a recent survey by the Greenville, SC-based Assn. of International Metallizers, Coaters & Laminators (AIMCAL) of its member-company official representatives. The survey was conducted from late April to late May 2020. And while the overall outlook at that time was mostly grim, many respondents felt that business recovery could be underway by mid-summer. 

PHOTO: A half-million disposable, anti-fog, coated-plastic face shields were made by Avery Dennison Medical and donated to healthcare facilities nationwide. 
 
Business basics
Overall business conditions (during the survey month) were deemed negative to very negative by 53% of responding companies. But on the flip side, 27% felt business was generally positive to very positive. As to the demand for a respondents’ specific products or services (based on the largest share of their business), 47% of those surveyed said it was slightly below to below average (down >10%), while one-third said it was slightly above to above average (up >10%). 
 
“Food packaging [demand] is surging due to stay-at-home vs. retail foods,” says AIMCAL Past President Milan Moscaritolo of Rolvac LP (Dayville, CT). Current AIMCAL President Dante Ferrari of Celplast Metallized Products, Ltd. (Toronto, ON, Canada), adds that this demand has created longer lead times for thin-gauge packaging films. He expects the situation to continue for 8-10 weeks before returning to “normal” order patterns. 
 
On a similar note, Todd Essig of RAE Products/Quad-R (Nashville, TN) says his company is also seeing strong demand for R2R converting cores for technical nonwovens, specific to personal protective equipment (PPE) converters and technical films for medical and food packaging. “To meet customer demand, we have added staff and increased capacity,” Essig says.
 
 “As a machinery builder, we have seen no major issues with getting commercial parts,” adds Bob Pasquale of New Era Converting Machinery (Hawthorne, NJ). “We are having some difficulty in getting fabricated parts due to closure of some of our suppliers.”
 
And when it came to raw-material supplies, a full two-thirds of survey respondents haven’t seen much impact at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mike Sullivan of MTi & Polyexe, Inc. (Brentwood, NH), comments that their firm has had no issues, “although LTL deliveries [were] a bit sketchy.” The supply chain has been “robust” for Essig of RAE Products. “We appreciate our suppliers; they have stepped up to meet our raw-material needs,” he says.
 
Adjusting to meet pandemic response
The global R2R converting field has been among the busiest when it comes to responding with vital healthcare-product needs during the coronavirus crisis (see sidebar). It begins with the online “Ask AIMCAL” service, which acts as a clearinghouse to link supply and demand among member companies. Together, suppliers and their converter customers are key providers in the supply chain for PPE, face masks and shields, and the materials and components to make respiratory ventilators to save the lives of those with the most critical COVID-19 infections.
 
Along with these efforts come the adjustments that AIMCAL companies have had to make to their business models based on market conditions. “We increased stock of raw material and finished goods to guarantee supply and have stock on hand in case we had to shut down,” explains Joseph Perdue of ECKART America (Schererville, IN). Similarly, “We have been trying to build up an inventory with the thought that when things open up, business will be strong,” adds Jim Conte of Hazen Paper Co. (Holyoke, MA).
 
“We continue to build machinery but have gone from a single-shift/single-location operation to a two-shift/three-location operation to increase social distancing,” says Pasquale of New Era Converting Machinery. Likewise, major OEM maker Davis-Standard (Pawcatuck, CT) and surface-treatment equipment manufacturer Enercon Industries (Menomonee Falls, WI) are providing customers with more technical support using remote access and virtual visits.
 
Trends in the “New Normal”
If anything is certain amid the current pandemic, it’s that things are changing on a daily basis. But what might the “New Normal” look like? The survey asked for comments on any trends emerging from the current situation that may help grow demand for metallized, coated or laminated products. 
 
“I think the negative discussion against single-use plastics and plastic packaging has quieted down as people realize the positive impact plastic makes on cleanliness, hygiene, etc.,” 
says Moscaritolo of Rolvac. Celplast’s Ferrari had thoughts in the same vein: “Anti-microbial coatings, easy-to-disinfect all-plastic packaging for consumer goods” will be important areas helping to grow the industry.
 
“Be ready,” warns Conte of Hazen Paper. “When the gates are opened, customers are going to want everything yesterday.” Addressing where those “things” will come from, Past AIMCAL President Bill Yoder mentioned, “More of my customers are asking if we are dependent on China for our raw materials and, if so, what are we doing about fixing [that].”
 
And again, Ferrari sums up well the positive response at Celplast that may exemplify the future of R2R converting and manufacturing in general. “Our employees have embraced new PPE and social-distancing norms, both inside and outside the workplace, in an effort to stay safe and protect their families and fellow employees,” he says. “They have proven they can be very adaptable, and we can still make money in spite of the changes our business has undergone.” 
 
More info: www.aimcal.org
 
Making a difference everyday
 
As raw-material suppliers and converters of finished goods for nonwoven surgical gowns, face masks and face shields, and myriad other items for personal protection and anti-viral cleansing, AIMCAL member companies are helping those on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. These are only a handful among the far more than can be included here. 
 
Avery Dennison Medical switched its manufacturing lines in Mentor, OH, to make disposable, anti-fog, coated-plastic face shields. Its repositionable tape helps hold the face shields to the wearers’ forehead with a skin-friendly, gentle adhesive. A half-million shields were donated to US medical and healthcare facilities across the country,
 
Dow developed a simplified, lightweight, two-piece design for face shields that helps accelerate production. It donated 100,000 face shields to Michigan hospitals, as well as shared the open-source design to others to encourage additional production. 
 
ITW Pillar Technologies (Hartland, WI) donated N95 respiratory masks to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. 
 
Lamart Corp. (Clifton, NJ) retooled its production assets in a matter of days to make 1000s of PPE isolation gowns for New York hospitals. Its Tijuana, Mexico, plant turned out 40,000 gowns, but when the facility was shut down to slow the virus spread, the Clifton plant took over, targeting an output of 75,000 gowns per week. 
 
Mondi Group adapted its production line in Gronau, Germany, to make three-layer laminated straps using nonwoven materials for one billion face masks. The material replaces rubberized bands that hold the mask to the face, thereby increasing the operational speed of the mask-converting machinery. 
 
thelamco, inc. (Benton Harbor, MI) has seen surging demand for its “hook-and-loop fastener materials” for securing medical PPE. Its contract coating/laminating services are also turning out protective films for safekeeping of PPE products while in storage. 

Respondent Demographics
Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the AIMCAL COVID-19 Business Impact Survey were converter/producers of metallized, coated or laminated materials or finished products. The remaining third were about equally divided among equipment, raw-material or other service suppliers. Seventy-three percent of respondents were companies classified as essential businesses and thus were operating full-time. Among the top sectors served by this group (multiple answers allowed) were food & agriculture (60%); healthcare & public health (33%); chemical, defense, and transportation (13% each). 


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