The epidemic is not finished, and a lot can still happen. However, looking back at the start with an uptick in March/April here in Washington State, it is still unbelievable what our small business accomplished in such a short period of time.
When we first received a phone call from Ford, we were not even sure if we could stay open or if we would need to shut down. Non-essential businesses were closing one after another and as people geared up to close temporarily and some moved to work from home, our future was uncertain.
To fulfill a need by hospitals in the United States, we were asked to manufacture 50,000 plastic medical ventilator housings within 3 weeks. In our zero-mold process, this is almost impossible. Even if we doubled our machine capacity and employee capacity there was just no meeting that demand. The customer and I compromised to share some knowledge about our medical enclosure process and run a preliminary 500 units in two weeks to get them going. This would allow them time to figure out their own production line using their machinery, space, and employees.
One of Toolless’s focuses for the last 3 to 5 years has been to increase our capacity so that we can run projects at a 500 unit rate monthly (and sometimes weekly) depending on the complexity, without changing our 3 to 4 week lead time. Increasing capacity means a lot of adjustments in our supply chain, from vendors to our final inspection control. It has involved addressing every single process of our operation and seeing what can be altered. Most of our assembly work is done manually and requires some specific knowledge and training to get to a final assembled unit. Sometimes we need to mount the customer’s PCB (printed circuit board) into our enclosure to test fit.
Nonetheless, we are specialized in small to medium runs, from 10 to 1,000 units at a time. But 50,000 units, regardless of all the effort we can put in, is beyond our capacity. Our team came together and made the 500 units in 2 weeks as promised to the customer.
This underlines the importance of working together as a team, and from a management perspective, feeling that your employees are doing their best to save lives. It was very rewarding to know that we were doing the right thing and to watch the pride on my employee’s faces as they worked hard to fulfill the order.
This video has been in my archives for a long time and I never exploited it but now I want to share it with our community, as may be one of these ventilators may have saved a couple of lives:
Here is a letter sent by ford after producing our enclosure:
Ford Motor Company
Product Development Center
May 22, 2020
Dear Valued Supplier,
Together, we have realized magnificent achievements.
As COVID-19 spread across the globe, a crisis ensued that challenged the health and livelihood of ourselves, our families, our colleagues and our organizations. During this chaos, we saw opportunities to help patients with COVID-19 and front-line workers. Combined, we developed new ways to mass produce medical equipment, reuse our existing materials for much-needed medical supplies and found ways to move materials and finished products quickly.
Last week we started shipping our ventilators and are now well into production on all other commodities (respirators, gowns, face shields). While we still have a long way to go to deliver all the commitments, we want to make sure we take a moment to reflect on our accomplishments and appreciate your engagement on getting us this far.
In addition, the environment continues to shift, and we are balancing our humanitarian efforts with plans to safely return to work. As we all prepare and start resuming our operations around the world, we also thank you for your continuous support in meeting all the humanitarian commitments we have made as a collective team.
We are so proud that, as a team, we turned incredible challenges into opportunities and now reality. We want to personally recognize you and your teams for your tremendous accomplishments.
We again salute you and all the goodness you helped to create.