WORCESTER — FLEXcon North America pivoted because of COVID-19 and made transformational changes, FLEXcon President Lavon Winkler said during a manufacturing roundtable on Friday, which was Manufacturing Day.
FLEXcon, located in Spencer, has been donating face shields, hazmat suits and other protective gear to local hospitals during the pandemic.
The company manufactures pressure-sensitive films and adhesives for the food, beverages and hygiene industries as well as for medical companies and pharmaceuticals. Because the company’s products are necessary for those industries and any stoppage in production would interrupt the supply chain, Winkler said, the company was designated as an essential service.
Winkler said the company began to see in February that something was brewing and it could have an impact on business. In March, the company formed three teams to look at risk management, continuity and communication. He said the company realized right away that keeping people safe from COVID-19 was a priority for the essential service.
A local hospital reached out to FLEXcon and asked if they could make much-needed face shields. A team came up with a prototype within 48 hours and the company began manufacturing the shields. Winkler said the company donated about 20,000 and sold another 100,000 at cost.
Then another local hospital asked if the company could make chest hoods, and FLEXcon took on that task, he said.
“It showed how resilient we can be,” he said.
However, Winkler said while revenue bumped up in 2019, it has fallen about 9% this year because of the pandemic.
Eric Busenburg, president of Euro-American Worldwide Logistics, said COVID-19, travel restrictions and the impact on the airline industry pushed up air freight costs 500%.
Euro-America, situated at Worcester Regional Airport in Worcester, provides international shipping, clearance through customs and domestic storage for manufacturers in the life sciences industry, mainly pharmaceutical companies.
Busenburg said 95% of the planes were grounded, leaving only 5% capacity.
“Everyone is fighting for that 5% and it drove up the prices,” Busenburg said after the conference. “Life sciences are not going to stop. They’re absorbing these cost increases but they weren’t planning for a 500% cost increase.”
That cost increase is now about 200%, he said.
Manufacturers have been looking at other alternatives to air freight, instead of passing on that cost to consumers, he said. The other option has been sea freight, but ocean vessels are much slower — typically taking about a month — than air freight. And the required temperatures are harder to control. However, sea freight is less costly.
Busenburg said despite the hurdles, business has been strong for Euro-America. Because of the demand for pharmaceuticals, his business has grown 15% since COVID-19 started.
“Euro-America is on the brink of needing to hire. We’re moving upwards. The demand for our services is increasing,” Busenburg said.
However, he said, “it’s hard to celebrate wins when so many other people are hurting.”