With plastic demand higher than ever, Sparks manufacturer pivots to partitions, face shields
SPARKS, Nev. — There’s a phrase Cole Tripp, VP of planning at Tripp Enterprises, keeps circling back to as he walks through the plastics manufacturing company’s 200,000 square feet of facility space.
“We’re doing whatever it takes,” Tripp shrugs as the consistent pops of pressing machines pierce the air. “As demand gets bigger, we’re doing all kind of things to make it as fast as we can, and the best we can, every time — whatever it takes.”
It’s a Monday morning and Tripp is standing near three employees manufacturing COVID-19 face shields. Two of them are using pressers with recently installed pneumatic pistons, which, Tripp points out, speeds up the production time — and reduces soreness — compared to a manual presser.
“It cuts the run time almost in half,” he says. “If we have the materials, they’re doing between 1,000 and 1,200 (face shields) a day between four people. They’re working diligently on trying to get another thousand done today.”
Since the pandemic shut down Nevada in mid-March, Tripp Enterprises, like many businesses, has been forced to pivot its operations and workflow. To limit exposure, the company switched from five eight-hour days to four 10-hour days. All employees are now masked and spread at least six feet apart. Overtime hours are being steadily clocked. The company even launched an online store.
Simply put, the Sparks-based manufacturer of plastics products is trying to keep up as it’s watched the demand for COVID-19 safety products not just spike, but surge out of thin air.
PUSH FOR PARTITIONS
Case in point: Tripp said the company produced “almost zero” safety partitions before the coronavirus. That’s no longer the case. More than three months into the virus’s vice grip on the state, the plastics manufacturer is making between 150 and 200 sneeze guards a day.
These products are being purchased by nearly every business and agency under the Nevada sun: casinos, restaurants, salons, city, state, DMV and more. To help meet the growing demand, he said the company’s 3-axis router machines are running “lights out” on partitions up to three days a week.
“It’s starting to actually get busier than it was,” said Tripp, citing the fact that many businesses are installing partitions whether or not they are mandated to do so. “There are six different ways to take an order, and right now the market is as fast as a mouse click. Now it’s, ‘I need these things to open my business, so I need it in two days.’ For us, it’s, ‘OK, we’ll make it happen.’”
“We have a really great group of people,” he continued. “So, if there’s this huge demand that somebody needs something, we do have people that will volunteer to stay or come in on a Saturday in order to help create some of the products we’re doing right now. Everybody here wants to do their part to try to help everything reopen, too.”
Tripp Enterprises had a brief shut-down of its own in mid-June after an asymptomatic team member tested positive for COVID-19, Tripp said.
The manufacturing company sent home all of its 85 employees, who have been subsequently tested, and closed its doors for two workdays. Following the sanitization and disinfection of its two 100,000-square-foot buildings, the company brought back the entire staff, making face coverings mandatory moving forward.
SUPPLY CHAIN CHALLENGE
Tripp, who admitted the company was a “little late to the party” in buying materials, said keeping an inventory of clear substances like acrylic and polycarbonate in stock to make face shields and partitions has presented its own set of challenges.
“Supply chain is probably the biggest impact,” he said. “Our materials guy is still searching for more face shield material. Before, you could pick up the phone and call six to a dozen vendors with 1,200 feet that will send it to you next week. Right now, he’s calling six or seven people to try to find one that has a single roll of 1,200 feet.”
Even still, Tripp Enterprises has ripped through more than 20 rolls of clear materials and counting, selling 5,500 face shields alone in online sales and donating another 3,500 more to doctors, nurses, medical students and other frontline workers.
Along with PPE and partitions, the company also makes parts for Hamilton Medical, the ventilator manufacturer in Reno that supplies equipment to help fight COVID-19 to labs and biotech companies worldwide.
Tripp said production volume for Hamilton has jumped at least “four times.”
“Hamilton is kind of leading the front on the fight of coronavirus, so all of their products that we touch, it’s been compounding,” he said. “They’re really difficult to keep up with their demand right now.”
‘HEAD ABOVE WATER’
While Tripp Enterprises has seen a spike in manufacturing COVID-19-related products, other revenue streams have been impacted by the pandemic — namely, aerospace manufacturing, which accounted for 40% of the company’s revenue before the pandemic, said James Stufflebeam, Tripp’s VP of finance.
“Now, they’re about 10% — maybe,” he added, referencing the airline industry’s steep decline caused by the pandemic. “And who knows when that comes back and to what extent.”
In all, Tripp Enterprises saw an 11.2% sales increase in Q1 and a 0.6% sales decrease in Q2 compared to 2019, according to the company.
“We’ve been working pretty hard to at least keep our head above water,” Tripp said. “And that’s really what it is — we’re not trying to make our fortune from the pandemic. We’ve got 85 jobs to think about. It’s not about trying to make money right now, it’s how are we going to survive this?”
Construction could begin next year and require about 500 to 600 workers, with a permanent workforce starting at 150 to 200 people with potential to expand.