Diversification has been the key to keeping a Sudbury fabrication shop open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the novel coronavirus started circulating earlier this year, Rezplast Manufacturing began to see the volume of their orders dwindle, noted Sandro Spadafora, vice-president of operations.
“As (customers) change up to deal with this pandemic that’s going on right now, they’re not spending as much money on capital,” he said.
“But they’re spending a lot of money to put safety precautions in place for their people so that they can get back to being operational.”
Working in fibreglass and plastic, the Sudbury manufacturer specializes in processing equipment for mining and other industries, fabricating tanks, fans, ducting, walkways, and more.
One of its signature products is a mining latrine and accompanying sink, which are designed specifically for use in rugged underground applications.
When a customer approached the shop about supplying additional hand-washing stations to its plant, Rezplast was happy to oblige, manufacturing a bulk order of the sinks, which will be placed outside every office and each outside door.
“We just actually shipped a transport load full of hand-wash stations to one of our customers that they’re setting up plant-wide so that everybody coming in and out will have extra additional places to wash their hands,” Spadafora said.
That initial request started the gears turning about how the manufacturer could help in other ways, and now Rezplast is working on a number of projects specific to the pandemic response.
“We’ve got all kinds of things on the go, trying to find solutions that aren’t in the market, or things that are in the market but not readily available,” Spadafora said.
Food retailer Smith’s Market in Sudbury was one of the first clients to purchase cashier shields, but before long similar requests came in from convenience stores, car dealerships and grocery stores.
Working with Health Sciences North, Rezplast is also producing intubation boxes to protect health-care workers treating COVID-19 patients.
Transparent and made of a hard plastic, intubation boxes are open at one end, and have circular cutouts at the other for a physician’s hands. When a patient is being intubated, the box is placed over the prone patient’s head, and a physician can intubate while being guarded against any spray from coughing.
Spadafora said the company has accessed open source files for these projects, and Rezplast is passing them along to anyone who asks.
“There are other manufacturers similar to us in North Bay, in the Sault, in Thunder Bay,” he said. “So we share information with them so they can make them for their community.”
But the company is also working on a unique, proprietary project to help protect mine workers travelling by cage underground.
Teaming up with Moran Fabricating, Rezplast has designed what it calls the Personal Protective Pod, a removable partition that helps separate workers in a cage or elevator.
Workers enter the pod through a central walkway and move into individual compartments via turnstiles, which are separated by clear barriers.
Each turnstile can accommodate three to four people, and the whole pod can be set up by two people or by forklift.
Spadafora said they’re designed to protect workers in pandemics like the current one, or even during regular flu season.
“(Companies) can roll this out six months from now, use it for three or four weeks, roll it back out and put it aside, and then the next time there’s a surge, they already have that piece of equipment,” he said.
Despite some challenges with shortages through his supply chain, Spadafora said this new work has meant he hasn’t had to cut any hours, and all 12 of his highly skilled employees are still working.
Rezplast’s approach to the pandemic has been to figure out solutions not just as a work team, but as a family – looking out for one another, helping their community, and finding work where they can, Spadafora said.
“We’re doing what we can to survive right now, just to make sure we can offer a paycheque and keep the economy going for some of our people here,” he said. “That’s the number one goal.”