Made in Michiana: Company shifts to making face shields amid pandemic

EDWARDSBURG, Mich. -- One local business has completely transformed their regular manufacturing to help create durable face shields to help keep our local doctors, city staff, and other workers safe while also extending this need to the country!

Duo Form Plastics has been a staple to the thermoforming plastics industry here in Michiana since 1968.

However, once stay at home orders were put into effect over a month ago, Duo Form had to completely shut down their usual manufacturing.

That was, until they realized they could do more to help their Michiana community and many others in a time of need.

"Our last day of production was March 23. I remember that day well it was a Monday” says the Vice President of Finance at Duo Form, Michael Ganger.

50 years of business at Duo Form was suddenly shut down.

A Michiana company who was known for making thousands of plastic parts for the RV world, aerospace, and recreational markets was not prepared to completely hault production for the first time in company history.

“We had to suspend production as of that day” says Ganger.

Then the company had to make some hard choices.

"That meant we had to reduce our staff" says Ganger, "Basically lay off, lay off majority of our work force roughly 80-90%.”

But in their darkest hour, perhaps even our communities darkest hour, there was all of a sudden hope at the end of the assembly line.

"When the shield came to us, when the doctors first approached us about it, I knew we had the right design team and they put it together in a record amount of time" says President of Duo Form Plastics, Shelly Ditmer.

"We worked in conjunction with one of the doctors at Memorial Hospital to come up with the design” says Ganger.

It took the group of about 10 office staff and their kids sitting around a table in the conference room to hand craft the original 70 shields and then sent them out to local hospitals for testing.

“And here we are today producing roughly 2,000 a day and our goal is to produce probably 12 to 15,000 a week as we move forward” says Ganger.

These shields were made with the user in mind and are meant to stand the test of time.

“You see a lot of throw away shields that are very thin, very flimsy" says Ganger, "But these shields are strong, rigid; they are able to be cleaned and able to be reused.”

The shields inner foam cushion and the Velcro strap can be replaced to keep each use and user as clean as possible.

To clean the shield itself the plastic supplier and local doctors recommend using a 50:50 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water or mild detergent then with a damp, soft cloth wash and rinse the shield in warm water.

Making an easy to use and clean shield was important because the need for shields across every industry was evident.

“You know our core is RV. And all the RV manufacturers and has said we want to provide gear to our employees we need shields. It’s a whole market we didn’t anticipate on top of the medical field" says Ditmer, "And same with the food industry and the cashiers, supermarkets everyone is looking for ways to protect their employees and customers."

No one could have guess this relevant need for more personal protective equipment would spark the creation of a whole new division within the company called Duo Protects!

"We have the face shields, we have the retail shields that go in front of your cashiers and we have the emergency intubation boxes that are used in emergency trauma rooms" says Ditmer.

With a new business in place and more money being made Duo Form says they are going to make it through this rough patch.

“We’ve got tons of experience here at DuoForm so we can adjust where we need to and we will see going forward" says Ganger "I think every business and every business owner is asking that question right now what is that new normal going to be?"

While the pandemic has caused major changed to the company, the staff say they would not change a thing.

“You know before, the economy was cranking everyone was so busy it pulled us back together" says Ditmer, "Like families are home together, I feel like everyone pulled back together as a team to work together. And what you can accomplish has been amazing.”

So what's next at Duo Form Plastics?

Currently the company has 50 to 100,000 orders in house so they will continue to make PPE equipment as fast as they can.

They are working on a second generation of face shields where the shield can lift up as well as a child's version because they are getting so many requests.

Ditmer says they are hoping to go back to a sense of normalcy here soon, so they are aiming to bring back the rest of their employees early May and if not, as soon as possible.

Duo Form is also continuing to sell their product on Amazon to whoever locally or country wide is in need!

If you are interested in looking at what is available, you can purchase off of the companies website or on their amazon page.

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