As of Feb. 12, the coronavirus that started in the eastern China city of Wuhan in late December is responsible for more than 1,300 deaths and infected more than 59,000 people worldwide. The outbreak forced the prolonged closure of all factories in China through at least Feb. 10, with many of them still awaiting reopening. This has resulted in many major supply chain disruptions for manufacturers that rely on products or components from China, and has China’s population of 1.4 billion scrambling for protective measures against the virus.
With that, China, and the world, are facing a global shortage of face masks, goggles and other personal protective apparel that is recommended to consumers to prevent spreading the virus.
One US company trying to help with the situation is PPE maker Paulson Manufacturing, based in Temecula, CA between Los Angeles and San Diego. The L.A. Times reported Feb. 11 that the company’s CEO Roy Paulson received an email from Chinese hospital officials in January saying they wanted everything Paulson Manufacturing had and as soon as possible. Chinese officials were particularly interested in Paulson’s infectious disease control eye goggles and face shields to protect healthcare workers. The company also produces PPE for markets of arc flash, industrial, tactical and firefighters.
As a result, Paulson Manufacturing and Chinese officials quickly signed a $2 million contract — representing about 5 percent of the company’s expected 2020 revenue — to produce 5,000 goggles and 5,000 shields per day. That’s about 10 times as much as the company normally produces per day.
CEO Paulson told the L.A. Times that he was already expecting China to request those items, but that he wasn’t prepared for the scale they ended up asking for. To produce the quantity China needed, Paulson Manufacturing’s assembly lines had to ramp up to maximum capacity.
But production was only one hurdle. The other was logistics. Because China greatly restricted sea imports, the only option was air freight. But with so many airlines also shutting down flights to and from China, Paulson faced issues there, too.
“We’ve told the shipping companies that these are critical medical products. We have to get these things over there to China. They’re waiting for them,” Paulson told the L.A. Times. “I’m emphasizing the humanitarian angle on this thing, but not everybody was seeing it the same way.
“But there’s always somebody there that’s willing to carry the goods if you just pay a premium. So right now we’re having to pay a premium to get the stuff over there, and we’re shipping it by United Parcel Service because they have dedicated aircraft.”
Paulson said the company is passing along the extra cost to its customers, and that he hired 10 additional employees for this rush stretch amid the virus. The CEO said the company is expecting that the crisis in China will last another three months.
Aside from logistics, Paulson Manufacturing is dealing with its own supply chain issue. The company’s first shipment of goggles and shields went out Feb. 5, and Roy said he’s having touble getting the materials needed to make those products for China while simultaneously keeping his pledge of using only US-made raw materials. Those materials include a foam interface, transparent ani-fog sheet and elastic strap.
“It’s the simplest product I make in the factory, but for us, making this many requires an immense amount of material,” Paulson told the L.A. Times. “While I had the inventory of some of the raw materials, I didn’t have all that I needed. So I’m still pulling them in. All my vendors have been very gracious, very understanding, bending over backward. I’m just having to be creative to come up with the volume that I need.”