On March 20, Millennium Slate LLC and its parent, Evergreen Slate Co. Inc., furloughed all of their employees pursuant to New York's directive on non-essential businesses. After guidance from the state, Millennium reopened with a small crew to make face shields and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the COVID-19 pandemic on March 31.
Prior to the shutdown, Millennium was using six axis robots and special-purpose, imported glue application equipment to apply hook and loop fastening tapes to a variety of construction materials. Millennium has had a good experience with hook and loop fasteners, with two patents pending and a wind tunnel test on a roofing product, which performed at 160 mph. The initial PPE product is a hook and loop fastened clear face shield. Millennium believes this product is superior to many similar products, which are secured with an elastic tape. Millennium's hook and loop fastening is completely adjustable as to fit and is unlikely to slip since it includes a strap over the top of the head.
"The last thing you want is for a shield to slip and obscure your vision. Then you need to reach up to readjust the shield with a dirty glove and risk infection," said Dr. Nic Pietrangelo, retired staff anesthesiologist at North Ottawa Community Hospital.
Millennium is using PETG for the majority of its production, above the minimum weight called out in some regulations. Thus, the material, if not yet the shield itself, is FDA approved.
Millennium is partnering with JKAdams, the wood products company based right over the border in Dorset, Vt. JKAdams has spun up five CNC routers and a laser cutter in support of the effort to make face shields. This PPE consortium has also received donations from hook and loop tape manufacturer Halco USA of Hayward, Calif. Tape converter TapeRite of New Hyde Park, N.Y., and Ink Inc. of New York City are also contributing services.
This shield will initially be sampled for free to as many of the New York and New England hospitals to whom Millennium can ship. This area is less than a day's travel in company-owned vehicles, and is the epicenter of this pandemic. Millennium is using its inventory of adhesives and hook and loop fasteners. It has sufficient material to build more than 10,000 shields and are laying plans to produce between 50,000 and 100,000 units per week.
"Producing these products is a win-win. We will be able to hire back furloughed workers and perhaps other area unemployed workers if demand develops the way we think it will," said Phil Prehoda, Millennium's president. "At the same time, we are pitching in to protect front line health care workers from this virus. While we can't afford to give away our entire production, we expect to provide free samples for a significant portion of our early production."