Thermoplastics manufacturer Flambeau is making an important part of personal protective equipment (PPE) widely used by frontline healthcare workers in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. After expediting its engineering and tool making processes, Flambeau’s injection molding facility in Baraboo, WI, is poised to be in full production in August 2020 of a key component in 3M ’s powered air purifying respirator.
The project began when Flambeau and their long-time customer, Cummins Inc., agreed to team up to supply the filter element of the 3M respirator kit.
With added urgency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flambeau was awarded the project six days after an initial discussion and immediately went to work engineering and tooling the necessary molds. Cummins is manufacturing the filter, while Flambeau manufactures the plastic housing, consisting of two parts — the main housing, which also gets overmolded in the process, and a snap-on vented cover to secure the inserted filter.
As the respirator is in use by frontline healthcare workers, breathable air is produced as air passes through the Cummins/Flambeau filter assembly. The filtered air is then delivered to the hood covering the worker’s head or face.
In less than eight weeks, engineers and toolmakers at Flambeau Technology Center produced two sets each of the three molds needed to manufacture the glass-filled polypropylene housing (GFPP), the overmold (TPE), and cover (ABS). With a fully automated process and full monitoring control, Flambeau will ramp up manufacturing of 3M’s part order to over 50,000 per week.
Flambeau says it was well-suited to respond to the need for this important product due to turnkey design, engineering, tool-building and product-processing capabilities, as well as Flambeau’s wide-ranging experience in thermoplastics manufacturing applications.
The respirator filters are being manufactured at the Cummins facility in Neillsville, WI, using existing equipment typically used for producing diesel engine filters. Flambeau’s injection-molded parts and the Cummins filters are shipped to a 3M plant in Nebraska where the respirator kits are prepared for market.
“The key to a partnership like this is the customer’s confidence in Flambeau,” says Alan Baldwin, Flambeau’s sales representative to Cummins. “They knew we have a very strong company, financially and otherwise. We were set up, and we were ready.”
In addition to its relationship with a trusted customer, Flambeau owes the opportunity of this project to its strong standing in the plastic manufacturing industry and its overall readiness.
“We do complicated molds for Cummins,” says Jeff Lucash, Flambeau’s vice president of sales, “and through great team effort we were able to come through in a time of high, immediate demand for this life-saving product.”
As the pandemic of 2020 continues to put pressure on the world’s medical equipment supply, essential businesses such as Flambeau are key to meeting the demands of a far-reaching manufacturing surge.