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.
The next time you’re out fertilizing the lawn or spraying for weeds, stop for a moment to think about Claudia Contreras. She deserves a round of applause. So do her coworkers. The plant manager at ScottsMiracle-Gro’s Temecula manufacturing facility, Contreras and her team have produced nearly 600,000 face shields for COVID-19 first responders over the past five months, with more in the works.
Granted, they don’t deserve all the credit. “I was at home on a Sunday afternoon and got a call from Keith Clark, our vice president of supply chain,” she said. “He wanted to know how quickly I could start making face shields. There’d been some discussion at corporate about ways to protect our employees and others from the surrounding area who might be at risk. The project just took off from there.”
The Temecula plant is responsible for plastic-injection molding, assembly, and distribution of a range of lawncare products. These include broadcast spreaders, pesticide sprayers, and various injection-molded components for some of the other ScottsMiracle-Gro’s facilities. Charged with oversight of the 412,000 sq. ft. production space and 130 full-time employees, Contreras was up to the manufacturing challenge.
She met with an engineering lead from the tooling department and described what she needed. The group designed and delivered a mold for the face shield’s head band in less than two weeks, she explained, together with additional tooling needed to produce the disposable PPE. “I was really impressed with how quickly they were able to turn it around,” Contreras said.
She and her manufacturing team immediately got to work molding, cutting, and assembling face shields. It wasn’t long before they had the first shipment of 9,000 ready, which they then donated to area hospitals, nursing homes, police and fire departments. They also sent several truckloads to New York and the East Coast, which at that time was at the height of its pandemic.
Through it all, the group continued to support their normal operations. “It was a lot of additional work for our manufacturing people, the maintenance and assembly crews, the warehouse team—everyone pitched in, working overtime and sometimes even re-purposing older equipment to meet the demand,” she said. “We were able to reduce some of our inventory levels to accommodate the face shield efforts, though, and the company made additional investments in equipment. Everyone was committed to making this happen.”
They didn’t stop there. Where the first face shield iteration was disposable, the Temecula engineering group came up with a reusable version, one that could be sterilized. They also designed ear savers to make masks more comfortable to wear. As of this writing, Claudia Contreras and her colleagues at ScottsMiracle-Gro’s Temecula plant have manufactured and distributed half a million face shields in all, well on their way to the 650,000-piece target. And still they’re not done.
“We’re recently received a separate request for a kid’s version of the ear saver, in anticipation of the school reopenings,” she said. “They’re currently working on the mold for that and we expect to start production shortly. The entire project has been challenging, but at the same time, it was a great opportunity and we’ve all been excited to be a part of it. Much of what we made was donated to our local community, many of whom we know personally, so it was very gratifying to read the thank you letters from the nurses, the first responders, and especially from the nursing homes. Everyone was very appreciative of our efforts. It’s a great feeling to know you’re making a difference.”