Made in Michiana: Businesses team up to make PPE for first responders

Made in Michiana: Businesses team up to make PPE for first responders

SAINT JOSEPH, Mich.-- Two local companies have come together to make sure their county first responders have the PPE equipment they need.

The story starts at Bridgman High School where Bridgman Schools Superintendent Shane Peters noticed there was a shortage of PPE equipment available for medical staff and first responders.

Not only for responders across the country, but right here in their backyard.

"So I thought to myself how could we help as a school district, how could I as a leader of the school in this county, how could I help facilitate getting PPE into the hands of the people who really need them for their own health and safety,” Peters said.

In order to help, Peters reached out to a long time friend and managing director of Edgewater Automation, Tim Tate.

“Shane Peters called me one evening and said I’ve been talking to some of the guys on the EEOC board and want to know if you guys have any capability to make face masks or face shields or anything like that, have you thought about that," Tate said.

“And that was on a Saturday afternoon," Peters said. "And on Sunday morning Tim called and said we could do it.”

Edgewater Automation just recently celebrated their 19 year anniversary in the manufacturing industry.

“We do just about anything you can think of in the transportation industry, the energy industry, aerospace industry, medical devices, pharmaceutical,” Tate said.

A company who has stood the test of time because of one thing: the culture.

So jumping face first into face shields was an easy decision.

“Interestingly enough our owner’s wife, Holly Blake actually said you guys need to think a little differently and do something," Tate said. "So that was already happening in the background and it was just a blessing that the two things aligned.”

But before things could move forward, Edgewater realized supplies were an issue.

“Material has proven to be a difficult thing to source with everyone making these right now,” said Cody Laughlin, the Mechanical Design Engineer.

Despite no supplies, Edgewater was already facing huge demand.

“We got a really big request that came in for the Berrien County Sheriff's department for 750 pieces," Tate said. "And they wanted them quickly and we wanted to make sure they got them quickly.”

A demand to serve first responders on the front line.

“It’s not just for the sheriff’s office, it’s for the emergency operations center to be given out to all first responders and those in need of that vital personal protection equipment,” Berrien County Undersheriff, Chuck Heit said.

Some outside help was quickly needed to get the job done.

“So what we did was call a local partner down in Bridgman Michigan that’s Eagle Technologies," Tate said. "And we said 'Hey guys we have this neat thing in our local community and we want to partner with you guys, can we make this happen together'? And it’s really cool because a lot of the time were competing with one another, and now were working as partners.”

Immediately, the two competing businesses became one team and got to work!

“There was a couple basic designs we started with. Working with Eagle and ourselves we came up with a design that would work and be comfortable for everyone," Laughlin said.

“As face shields become available, the ones that are out there they aren’t to the standard of what they are making,” Undersheriff Heit said.

However, trying to ramp up production of the 3D printed clips and main frames with only one 3D printer was a challenge.

“So we didn’t have enough. We started out with one and we had one that was marginally broken. So we knew that our capacity was limited,” Tate said.

But never fear, the Bridgman community was there to help, letting Edgewater utilize 3D printers from both the Bridgman schools and Eagle Technologies to make the shields happen.

“Bridgman schools said hey we have 2 of these things sitting idle, no one’s at school using these come get them. So Cody has 4 of these running 24 hours a day at his house," Tate said.

Weeks later and Edgewater and Eagle's partnership is paying off.

But the order isn’t quite finished yet.

“We have supplied about 200 so far, and I believe Eagle has done about the same so were a little over half way to our 750 mark,” Laughlin said.

Despite both companies only being halfway to the finish line, this job has already hit home for Laughlin.

“My dad is actually a deputy," Laughlin said. "He got his mask the other day since so he’s been able to wear it and as he’s working with people he’s been able to stay safe. So it’s pretty big to be able to protect him and his co-workers as well.”

And for Superintendent Peters who has known and worked with first responders for decades, pitching in just made sense.

“So to be able to help that group and to help Chuck and take some of the pressure off law enforcement or the command structure just feels good,” Peters said.

And it was all made possible from unlikely forces coming together.

“The partnership with Eagle really made this possible," Laughlin said. "Cause we would have taken twice as long to do it ourselves and they helped us refine the design and ramp up our production and make these as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Edgewater and Eagle are using their larger supply chain connections to help even more.

“To not only help us make the face shields but items like no touch thermometers and gowns," Undersheriff Heit said.

And unlikely smaller community connections too.

“Bridgman schools has donated probably 200-300 of Clorox wipes to the EOC to give to various organizations and people so they stay safe while doing their essential work,” Peters said.

To care for the small Michiana town, they all come home.

“What a benefit it is to us. They are going to be available to first responders across, police, fire, EMS as needed. We’re just very thankful for those local companies who are doing their part as well," Undersheriff Heit said.

Looking forward, Edgewater is working to complete that 750 shield order and then surpass that to continue making shields for the local community.

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