SHEFFIELD — The factory operates around the clock during a pandemic or not, turning plastic pellets into sheets for making things like fighter jet canopies and vending machine fronts.
But amid the novel coronavirus crisis, the 113 employees at the Plaskolite plant off Salisbury Road are mostly focused on churning out the polycarbonate sheets that will be sold to make protective barriers for a multitude of industries suddenly faced with trying to stop the spread of the virus.
With the nation's economic free fall pinching off the plant's orders for other types of manufacturing, the uptick in pandemic-inspired demand keeps the factory rolling steady.
"Right now making vending machine fronts is not the most important thing in the world," said Tim Ryan, Plaskolite's plant manager.
Ryan said orders have spiked for the thinnest sheets used for face visors for health care workers amid widespread shortages of equipment. They're also selling a lot of sheets for making divider shields for banks and grocery stores.
"We've seen an uptick in volumes just based on those applications," he said.
The Sheffield plant has manufactured plastics since 1949, and seen a number of owners. In 2018, Columbus, Ohio-based Plaskolite, LLC purchased the plant from Covestro, a spinoff of Bayer MaterialScience. Plaskolite runs 10 factories worldwide that make a variety of thermoplastic sheets.
Employees live across the tri-state area. Ryan said administrators or anyone not essential to production is now working remotely to limit exposure to those making the products.
"We're disinfecting twice a day," he said. "We're taking care of our people. They're the ones who are providing solutions."
Morale is strong. Ryan said workers know they are helping a country in crisis. The company hasn't yet been contacted by the federal government, but it reacted quickly to news that has engulfed the world.
"Once we saw the need for face shields we just started to move into production," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.