Physical distancing and thoroughly washing your hands are ways for the general public to battle the spread of COVID-19.
For manufacturers looking to find ways to help fight the battle by retooling their operations to create much-needed medical supplies such as masks and face shields, collaboration is the key way says Steve Mai, CEO and President of Eclipse Automation, one of many local companies stepping up to the plate.
“It really helps if you build networks,” says the Eclipse founder. “Don’t work in a bubble, get out there and do it.”
The Cambridge-based company, which has been an industry leader in custom automated manufacturing equipment for 20 years, recently inked an agreement with Harmontronics Automation in China to manufacture, sell and distribute its automated N95 vertical flat fold respirator mask production line system in North America. As well, Eclipse also signed an agreement last week with Irema Ireland to access its N95 and FFP2 mask product designs and technology, including respirator designs, specifications, and manufacturing process for exclusive use in Canada.
These agreements will provide Eclipse the opportunity to rapidly create automation systems to support the design and assemble these important medical supplies, plus pave the way for a domestically produced N95 respirator.
Ultimately, Steve has a goal to produce vital life-saving protection products domestically.
“We shouldn’t be losing sight of the fact that we have a definite problem in quality of what is coming in through the supply chain,” he says. “I want to know there are masks produced in this country that have every element of the supply chain controlled.”
He admits the overall process has been taking place at a slower pace than he’d like, taking into consideration the strict regulations in place to have a mask receive NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approval, but notes Eclipse has not lost sight of its end goal to ensure these supplies get into the hands of those who need them most. According to a recent media release, Eclipse expects to be first-to-market domestically by early July and plans to ramp up to make one million units per week.
“This is what we do for a living, this is not a secondary thing we’re trying to get into,” says Steve, describing the company’s decision to enter the battle against COVID-19.
He says the company, which employs approximately 800 people among its locations in Cambridge, U.S., Europe and China, has used a foundational approach by building on its core competencies to reach its goal.
He recommends other companies wishing to retool should consider doing the same.
“They’ve got to be careful not to overextend themselves and stay with what they know and focus on their core competencies,” says Steve, adding working with others is also important.
“We’re learning about a completely different network than we’re used to,” he says. “I’m seeing people sharing their ideas and being quite open.”
Since Eclipse undertook this major endeavour back in March, Steve says he has connected with many businesses that he has never had contact with before and expects to see these new relationships only strengthen.
“There’s some decent networking that’s going to come out of all this,” he says, describing the numerous phone calls he has had with various business leaders. “It’s really been amazing. I can’t wait to meet them in person.”
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