Made in Michiana: Local business making hand sanitizer and ventilator parts

ELKHART, Ind. -- Kem Krest has been a staple to the supply chain industry here in Indiana and through the country for over 40 years.

They have 12 locations across North America, 6 of those here in Indiana and Michigan.

Providing jobs for over 450 employees in Elkhart alone, Kem Krest is used to working on a large scale.

“Kem Krest is a company that focuses principally on supply chain of automotive, power sports, and defense," says the Director of Growth Initiatives, Rudy Yakym III. "We deliver to 13,000 automotive dealerships across North America on a daily basis.”

However things changed quickly once the coronavirus pandemic hit.

"You cannot anticipate the both chaos and uncertainty of the last 30 days,” said Ben Decker, the Director of Supply Chain.

While this pandemic has sent shock waves through every industry, Decker says he remembers the hardships the company faced when he started at Kem Krest 12 years ago.

“2008. In a pretty challenging time for particularly for this area let alone the overall U.S. economy and global economy,” Decker said.

Decker says starting this job during a country wide recession allowed him to use those lessons learned to make the best out of another sour situation.

“Everyday we’re just trying to make lemonade," says Decker. "We’re coming in and just trying to get all the folks we can to get shoulder to shoulder and figure out how to power through each day's task. The experience that kind of put the hooks in me 12 years ago prepares us for situations like this.”

So while many businesses across the country went dark, Kem Krest knew they were not ready to shut off the assembly lines just yet.

“Well our first step was to really figure out how we can help," says Yakym III. "How we can help our community, our customers and how can we help our country get through this. That’s really where the concept of making our own hand sanitizer was born.”

This step forward made perfect sense to CEO Amish Sha, who says personal care products are basically in his blood.

“Back before my father sold to kick in 2005 his company was the producer of Purell!" says Shah. "So it wasn’t that out of school for me to figure out the mechanics and the physical concepts of how to ramp up a hand sanitizer line.”

So hand sanitizer became the company's first step forward on March 16th after the FDA relaxed restrictions on who could make it.

“Once we realized we could make it, we filed for a permit with the United States Department of Treasury to be able to buy alcohol," says Yakym III. "Fortunately with the help of Senator Todd Young and Vice President Mike Pence we were able to get that permit to make hand sanitizer.”

But that did not mean jump starting a whole new division was easy.

“There is stuff everyday where we say here are the rules and then tomorrow we have to make new rules,” says Decker reminiscing on the last few weeks.

But thankfully, Kem Krest and their suppliers, like Berlin Packaging, were able to lean on one another for support through this tough time.

“They have been supportive of us through this whether it's packaging related in sprayers, in labels, in bottles, or whether it’s helping fill product where we’ve hit capacity in some of our facilities," says Decker. "And we’ve been able to reach out to them while they’re having some slow times.”

With support and the green light, just 5 days after their approval the companies plants in Brighton and Fowlerville Michigan began to utilize their paused production lines.

"We haven’t stopped manufacturing our other products but some of the other products we do make have indeed slowed down," says Yakym III. "And so we were able to take a few different lines and fully dedicate those manufacturing lines of the many lines we do have towards the production of hand sanitizer.”

As well as a new plant based, biodegradable disinfectant called Bioesque.

The new cleaner has piqued interest from their automotive customers as a new step in their car care services.

"The interior of the car will be wiped down so it’s free from COIVD-19 from anyone that could have had it in that car and then prior to being returned to the car owner,” says Yakym III.

Kem Krest utilizing everything they had in house, including their brake fluid bottles and such to continue pushing product out the door to those who need it, as fast as they can.

Over the course of May, Kem Krest is planning to produce about 600,000 gallons worth of hand sanitizer in the forms of 4 and 12 ounce bottles, gallons, even large drums.

That can help cover the needs of roughly 5 million people for a full month.

With as much product as Kem Krest continues to produce, shockingly that is not the only product they are sourcing.

"But then we get a phone call from General Motors,” says Shah.

General Motors facing a monumental task of their own, trying to produce ventilators, the car company needed a little help.

“We were asked to find and source various components for the ventilator," says Shah. "I would say about a dozen or so are coming from Kem Krest.”

That's a dozen parts on each of the 10,000 ventilators GM is cranking out per month, helping to save lives across the country.

“What an amazing inspiration for our team and our associates," says Shah. "Hey, here we are in amidst of a crisis and were supplying something that truly saves lives.”

Seeing the impact the ventilators and hand sanitizer has has country wide as been gratifying enough.

“We’re truly providing something that people can use at Kem Krest" says Shah "When you think there is no hope and your business is suffering and you try to start back up but can’t find materials or supplies for us to be able to provide that to somebody is one of the coolest honors that I could even consider.”

But hearing personal stories has made the hours and days of unknowns worth it.

“We received a picture of an ICU nurse who had some Kem Krest hand sanitizer hit her floor," says Yakym III. "The smile on her face and knowing that that nurse was the daughter of one of our Kem Krest employees, it’s a small world kind of story.”

In the coming weeks, Kem Krest is hoping to bring back their full staff.

They say they will need them all as the next hurdle will be puzzle piecing their new home and safety products along with their regular manufacturing.

The company hopes to have those Kem Krest labels stick around and help those who need it, for quite some time. 

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