What began as an effort to help a local hospital at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has become a promising product line for Autronic Plastics Inc. in Central Islip.
In mid-March, as Stony Brook University Hospital was seeing a spike in virus patients and running low on personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses, infectious diseases chief Dr. Bettina Fries asked her East Setauket neighbor Agjah Libohova, head of design engineering at Autronic, if the company could make face shields.
That conversation led Autronic to design a face shield, spend $200,000 setting up production lines that turn out more than 90,000 face shields per day, and add 30 people to its payroll of about 100. The company, best known for lighting used in subway tunnels, is now in the health care market with a new subsidiary, Clear-Vu Medical.
CEO Daniel Lax said the company expects to fill orders for about 10 million face shields by the end of next month. The product is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a standard required by many customers, he said.
Lax spoke with Newsday about Autronic’s expansion into health care.
Why did you start making face shields?
Our initial inclination was the supply chain that's already doing this could scale up and flood the market faster than we could even try and get involved. But after a day or two of insistence [by Stony Brook] that we help, we thought this could keep our assembly line busy for a little bit, and we could help the local community.
How long did it take to design the face shield?
One day, and then Stony Brook ordered 20,000 and Northwell [Health] ordered 20,000. All of a sudden, we had to figure out how to build this. We tweaked the design to make it more scalable [for high-volume manufacturing] and Stony Brook ordered an additional 200,000 units in late March. Our first shipment was on April 6.
Tell me about the telephone call you received from an aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo?
She called on March 25 at 6:30 at night and said the state would like to order a million units. My stomach knotted up because we don't want to make promises that we can't keep. She asked how quickly we could deliver them. I said I needed to confer with my production team and could we talk the next day. She said, "I'd really like to put out a press release tonight. Can you tell me right now?" I said we could deliver them within 12 weeks. She said, "We're trying to flatten the curve. How about 8 weeks?' I took a deep swallow and said, "OK."
Are you still selling face shields to hospitals?
Yes, but now we supply the distributors who sell to hospitals. We're now going after the stocking programs that are getting ready if there’s a second wave [of the coronavirus].
Are any of your customers outside of New York State?
We’ve shipped to about a half-dozen states so far.
Besides the face shield, what else does Clear-Vu Medical sell?
We developed a BiPAP adapter with Northwell that converts a BiPAP machine to a controlled ventilator. We also have a snap-on face shield for hardhats used by construction workers, meat cutters and others.
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