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Humans of Manufacturing: Heroes

Auto Supplier Goes from Door Liners to PPE

In times of need, manufacturing is driven by a philosophy John Lennon said best, “There are no problems, only solutions.” Today, manufacturers have pivoted to produce the critical supplies and equipment necessary to battle COVID-19 at a rate never seen before. SME’s Humans of Manufacturing Heroes Edition tells the stories of the teams, companies and partnerships adapting to produce the tools needed to fight this global pandemic. Going behind the scenes to share how these once-in-a-lifetime transformations are happening and the people making it all possible.

Cadillac Products Automotive Co., like many manufacturers, stepped up to provide assistance as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S. and globe. It’s not the first time the fourth generation, family-owned, company has stepped up to help when the country needed—having provided war materials to the U.S. Government during WWII.

Part of the team at Cadillac Products Automotive Company who switched to making gowns to protect healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Provided by Cadillac Products Automotive Company)

Manufacturing PPE was a new experience for the Troy, Mich.-based auto supplier who usually makes vehicle door watershields for automakers. The inner door liners that Cadillac Products makes are custom designed to block water, dust, and sound from entering vehicle interiors.

But earlier this year, Cadillac Products became involved with COVID-19 efforts when Maggie Williams, a nurse, contacted her father, Bob Williams, the CEO of Cadillac Products Packaging Co. She informed her father that she and other health care professionals at Grace Sinai Hospital in Detroit were running short on disposable medical gowns. Bob Williams’ brother, Michael Williams II, is chairman of Cadillac Products Automotive Company.

“In short order, Cadillac developed a design and manufacturing process and then began to manufacture gowns,” said Don Lowe, market representative for Cadillac.

The company benchmarked “numerous gowns from the market, improving designs and then developing a process to make the designed gown,” he added. “This was done over a long weekend in early April 2020. Early production was achieved with a single manufacturing work cell” at the company’s production facility in Troy.

Cadillac management produced an initial batch of gowns. Based on the need and their success, the company has since moved to turn gowns into a continuing business.

“Approximately 50,000 gowns were donated before donated materials and volunteer labor ended,” Lowe said.

“At that time, Cadillac leadership determined domestic medical gowns were needed in this country,” he added. “Cadillac began to sell gowns and has since kicked off a new, automated production process and equipment, providing for various designs and various levels of protection for front line medical personnel.”

Cadillac Products Automotive Company utilized their skills from engineering and manufacturing watershields for car doors to making gowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Provided by Cadillac Products Automotive Company)

Lowe explained how Cadillac was able to adapt to producing gowns.

“There was a great amount of knowhow and a greater amount of drive and desire to help the community in a time of need,” he said. “Knowhow exists in that the company already extrudes the film needed to manufacture these gowns. It was just a matter of increasing output to make gowns.

“As far as applying knowhow to the manufacture of gowns, the adaption of existing tooling and equipment was a short process. Through the great work of Cadillac engineering, coupled with the support of very capable machine and equipment vendors, it took less than four days to develop and install a manual work cell that was capable of producing a fully qualified gown.”

Cadillac also determined there was a need to stay in the business of making gowns.

Lowe said the company concluded there were “too many shortages and too many poor-quality gowns selling at exorbitant prices.” Such gowns “were compromising the health and well-being of front-line medical workers.

“Simultaneously, Cadillac had developed a strategy to diversify beyond the majority automotive market,” he said. “Protective gowns were a natural and proper fit. Cadillac is now exploring expansion of the ProTEC-USA product line to include Level 1 and Level 2 gowns. This move will provide for the full spectrum of gown needs across the market.”

For Cadillac Products, the journey has been a learning experience.

“We’ve learned more about the product,” Lowe said. “We’ve learned more about the need for this product in the USA. We’ve learned more about ourselves and how, when challenged, we can jump in, rally the team and meet the needs of the market” and customers “to achieve a positive and balanced result.”

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