Molders stay nimble to meet pandemic's challenges

June 9, 2021
EVCO Plastics and Minnesota Rubber & Plastics report strong demand for medical products and a tight supply in the resin market.
By Karen Hanna  

Feats of agility and speed will be on display this summer when the Olympic Games kick off — if they take place at all.   

But, for the manufacturers that make medical parts, the achievement of surviving a gauntlet of challenges over the past year has gone mostly unheralded.   

The COVID-19 pandemic — which forced the postponement until this year of the 2020 Summer Olympics — has demanded quick reactions from the molders that make parts used to combat disease.  

“As a custom manufacturer and molder, we have always been nimble, but the continuous pivots from last year will forever change how we produce and ship products around the world,” said Anna Bartz, director of communications for Evco Plastics, a multinational custom molder based in Wisconsin.  

Evco Plastics, which manufactures complete products and components for the medical, agricultural, power-sports, industrial and consumer-goods industries, and Minnesota Rubber & Plastics recently weighed in on the trials and triumphs of the past year. Both companies reported strong demand from many corners, despite supply-chain challenges.   

“We have seen strong global demand from our medical customers. Our customers have benefited from our ability to manufacture and support components and assemblies in several locations we have around the world,” said Karl Spilseth, senior manager of global marketing for Minnesota Rubber & Plastics, which specializes in designing and manufacturing rubber, silicone and thermoplastic components and assembly services for numerous applications.  

Minnesota Rubber & Plastics operates facilities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Mexico, France and China. Meanwhile, according to Bartz, Evco Plastics employs more than 1,600 people and runs 235 machines with clamping forces from 35 tons to 3,500 tons at 10 facilities in the U.S., Mexico and China. The companies have grown over the past year.  

“Our medical business has been very important to our growth over the past year. Like other companies, some of our growth from last year is attributed to COVID-19-related products, especially in the areas serving testing and diagnostic products,” Bartz said.  

At its Litchfield, Minn., facility, Minnesota Rubber & Plastics has
commissioned six new injection molding machines and added two high-speed automated vision inspection systems. “Additionally, we are bringing online a new ISO Class 8 clean room that will support COVID-19 efforts on a critical customer project, as well as expanding existing ISO Class 7 and 8 clean-room capacity in our facilities,” Spilseth said.  

With the supply-chain challenges created by the pandemic, as well as the powerful winter storms that blasted Texas in February, representatives at both companies acknowledged sourcing resin has been a challenge.  

“It has been harder, but we have benefited from our strong global supply connections to mitigate these risks and to find alternatives wherever possible,” Spilseth said.  

Success has required resilience.   

“We have had to shift weekend teams to various plants to handle demand, allow for greater flexibility in terms of remote working, and, just when you think you have one challenge under control (global pandemic), another one arises (material allocations),” Bartz said in an email.   

Evco even designed and manufactured a product of its own in the personal protection equipment category — a PP headband with a PET face shield, which it sold through Amazon. 

Minnesota Rubber & Plastics’ medical-parts portfolio has included kits for diagnosing viruses, like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.   

Spilseth emphasized the importance of teamwork at the company. 

“Our priority is to assure continuity of supply by working really closely with our customers to support their requirements with alternative sourcing locations, different colors or alternative materials when necessary,” he said. “Our customers have been great to partner with to solve challenges presented by these economic conditions together.” 

Karen Hanna, senior staff reporter

[email protected]