AKRON, Ohio — A few months ago, Dave Sutter, the owner of Excelsior Marking in Akron, never imagined his workers would be making face shields, but now the company can churn out 400 of them a day, using a computer-generated program and a laser.
"It's been a scramble and I think it's probably something we'll be doing for quite a while," Sutter said.
The company also started making an E-Key, which allows people to open doors without touching handles.
The manufacturing business on West Waterloo Road opened in 1905 and normally machines parts for tire molds and makes printing plates for the food industry.
However, the pandemic is causing many manufacturers, including Excelsior, to get creative to keep employees on the job, while also addressing the increased demand for personal protective equipment.
According to the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance, nearly 2,000 Ohio manufacturers have answered the call to fight COVID-19 by repurposing and retooling to make PPE and other urgently needed equipment.
Sutter estimated the coronavirus crisis has led to a 50 to 60 percent drop in revenue to his business.
By partially pivoting to making face shields, he's able to keep his 19 employees working.
"You hate to see what this has done to the economy, how it's affected so many people and we're fortunate that everybody has a job and everybody is still working," Sutter said.
The Ohio Manufacturing Alliance recently launched the Ohio Emergency PPE Makers' Exchange, an online marketplace where organizations that need equipment can find a wide selection of shields, masks, gowns and other items offered by Ohio manufacturers.
"It's really nice. It's kind of like a Craigslist, if you will, of PPE for manufacturers to get," said Juliana Petti from Alliance for Working Together, on organization that represents more than 500 manufacturers in Northeast Ohio.
Petti estimated about 90 percent of AWT members have moved into the space of making some form of PPE.
"These companies are really stepping up. We're Ohioans. We're Americans and it's been heart-warming for me to see that," she said.
Sutter said his company has sold about 500 face shields so far, some through his website and others through the PPE Makers' Exchange. He has also donated some to the Battered Women's Shelter and to the homeless.
He expects the demand to grow and the business will keep making the shields as long as necessary.
"This isn't going to go away for a while. People are going to needs to wear the shields, the masks."