In less than a month, it all changed. The Miami shows had boatbuilders reporting order books that would keep them busy for the foreseeable future. We looked toward the rest of the year with excitement: Events and conferences were lining up like clean sets of waves. All we had to do was paddle in, pay attention and enjoy the ride.
As mid-March faded into April, however, those waves become frightening tsunamis. Covid-19 was everywhere, with the number of those infected inversely proportional to the world’s financial markets.
Out of an abundance of caution, or following state executive orders, boat, RV and automobile manufacturers shut down across the country, with workers laid off or furloughed. Marinas, boat ramps and state parks closed in large numbers, cutting off those with a jonboat or a battlewagon from escaping the 24-hour news cycle.
On the ropes, the marine industry started to do what it has done so many times before: looked within and rallied. Boatyards and builders, recognizing that their protective equipment would serve those on the front lines of the medical emergency, donated truckloads of N95 masks and Tyvek suits. Viking Yacht Co., Brunswick Corp. and Azimut-Benetti gave the equipment by the tens of thousands of pieces, as did several other builders.
The call was heard in single-shed and custom facilities, as well. Two Maryland-based shops — Pasadena Boat Works and Weaver Boat Works — combined to donate 21,000 N95 masks to their state’s health department. Other marine companies repurposed their facilities for the fight against covid-19.
A Texas-Sized Need
Abilene, Texas-based Tige Boats has been building a line of surf, wake and ski boats for 29 years, still led by company founder, owner and CEO Charlie Pigeon. He decided to pivot with his manufacturing facility, instead producing face shields and masks for donation to first responders, physicians and other emergency workers. “Our team has been working tirelessly and moving quickly to support the first responders during such a tough and unprecedented time,” Pigeon says.
The initial goal of producing 500 masks and shields per day quickly jumped to more than 1,000 as the Tige staff of more than 200 alternated between boatbuilding and producing personal protective equipment. The company plans to keep production going until demand ceases. “Our goal is to embrace the talents of our workforce to combat covid-19 and return to normal life as quickly as possible,” Pigeon says.
In an effort to nudge other manufacturers, Tige made a training video and templates available through the its website.
Pivoting for Safety
For more than 50 years, the name Mustang Survival has been synonymous with saving lives, by way of survival suits. Now the British Columbia manufacturer is working toward that same goal with a different product. “There was a need to get ahead of the problem and look to local sources to solve it,” says Mark Anderson, Mustang Survival director of engineering.
On April 1, the facility began using materials on hand to make isolation gowns that are washable, resuable and meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. Anderson used his unique position in the industry to rally support within the British Columbia apparel community. As chairman of the BC Apparel & Gear Association, Anderson enlisted designers and apparel makers at Boardroom Clothing, Arc’teryx and KenDor Textiles in mid-March to collaborate on design. “A cutting-edge design community here in Vancouver provides us with the ability to adjust and pivot our focus on developing a solution,” Anderson says.
Mustang’s innovation lab was transformed with the goal of designing a gown on the fly, with local health care officials pitching in to correctly certify its safety status. Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates a network of hospitals, primary-care clinics and more, ordered 90,000 gowns. Anderson says Mustang is also fielding requests from Toronto and the United States.
Mustang can produce around 5,000 gowns a week, and Anderson says the company will share the technical specifications for various medical gowns so manufacturers around the world can follow suit.
From Boats to Masks
Florida-based Nautique Boats, a Correct Craft brand, began sewing face masks when the Orlando Health network of hospitals reached out for help. Orlando Health had the medical fabric, but no capacity to make the masks.
Nautique Boats partnered with Watershed Innovation, another Correct Craft subsidiary, to produce medical-quality face shields. Coca-Cola Florida donated plastic in 1,700-pound rolls but needed a facility and machinery that could handle them. Correct Craft can cut the plastic into manageable sections.
“Our team is unlike any other,” says Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin. “Their drive, creativity and teamwork to help people in their local community during this crisis is inspiring. Our team has diligently worked to bring as much help and encouragement to our local health care community as they can.”
Centurion and Supreme Boats have donated personal protective equipment to supply Memorial Medical Center and Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Calif. The builders also are making approximately 1,000 face shields to donate locally in California.
A Blue-Chip Team Effort
In the auto industry, Ford was forced to close nearly all of its facilities throughout the United States, Europe and South America, but in a partnership with GE Healthcare, Ford’s Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., was retooled to produce ventilators. The company’s goal is to produce 50,000 in 100 days. A deal was made with the United Auto Workers union to manufacture the masks.
“We’re so proud to be working closely with GE Healthcare on this important effort, and we have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up their production of this vital equipment,” Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO, stated in a press release.
The plan is to produce two types of ventilators: GE Healthcare’s simplified version, which Ford will help produce and scale, and an existing Airon Corp. design. At press time, Ford was scaling production at the Airon factory just before starting work on the ventilators at Rawsonville.
Separate from Ford, GE Healthcare already had doubled its capacity of ventilator production, with plans to double capacity again by the end of June. The company was working with such partners as Ford on additional efforts to further ramp up production. n
HydroHoist’s Rotomolded Pallets Move Medical Supplies
Being one of few U.S. rotomolders, and one of even fewer that is ISO-certified, made RotoMoldUSA in Claremore, Okla., uniquely positioned to help with a particular covid-19 problem.
Ongweoweh Corp. of Ithaca, N.Y., a handling company for various industries including medical, needed to expand its rotational molding facilities to manufacture U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved plastic pallets for shipping medical supplies. The pallets initially were designed to prevent a pest in Puerto Rico from entering the United States as an invasive species. In late March, the idea was to use those pallets to stop the transmission of bacteria and viruses when shipping medical supplies and personal protective equipment to hospitals.
RotoMoldUSA, like all subsidiaries of HydroHoist Boat Lifts, is ISO 9001:2015-certified. RotoMoldUSA manufactures the pallets with a static load of 18,000 pounds and a dynamic load of 9,000 pounds, says Mick Webber, president and CEO of HydroHoist. Though that’s more than the pallets probably need for medical-equipment use, the wall thickness is specified to HydroHoist, and the construction process requires inserting a frame to provide rigidity.
“It’s actually more complex because we are incorporating inside, which you do not see, a metal frame, so that takes some expertise to frame correctly every time,” Webber says. “Almost every process for rotomolding is [using] a hollow core. We’re putting metal frame on the inside to get the rigidity to get load specifications.”
RotoMoldUSA is keeping its pallet prices the same as they have been for the past seven years, despite the crisis. “There’s no way we would sit there and take advantage of the situation,” Webber says. “They want speed. They’re not really asking how much; it’s more about how fast. That lends itself to expedite charges and rising costs. That’s not what we’re doing.”
HydroHoist remains operational in other ways, too. The company landed a Navy contract last fall, and all of its operations are deemed essential because of its work servicing boat lifts with sheriff’s departments and the Coast Guard. Webber says the company is also receiving deliveries of certified masks from China. He has distributed more than 2,000 masks to local hospitals in Oklahoma, as well as to a hospital in Louisiana.
“I think the employees here have a lot of pride being involved in it,” Webber says. “While we are very proud of the quality and innovative design of our boat lifts, we are even more proud to be part of the effort to help the greater good.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue.