COVID-19 Forces Minnesota Factories to Pivot

 In Warroad

Article credit: Dee DePass, Star Tribune

In Warroad, a few miles south of Canada, window and door maker Marvin is now making a specialized ventilator box for use in ICUs and surgery after working with the University of Minnesota to develop it.

Polaris, at its Roseau plant 25 minutes away, is helping out.

The ventilator-box project started a few weeks ago when a robotics high school teacher in Warroad connected Marvin with M Health physician Hai-Thien Phu and Chris Hogan, a mechanical engineer professor at the University of Minnesota.

“The U had a prototype, but they didn’t know how [to] make this in volume and how you can make it easy to manufacture and lightweight,” said Christine Marvin, vice president of design for the window and door company.

This week, after receiving emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, production began.

It is one example of how Minnesota companies are pivoting to meet personalized protective equipment (PPE) needs and saving jobs in the process.

Alexandria Industries has now increased its medical manufacturing by 58%, and Summit Medical has met ambitious goals for selling a face shield it developed from open-source material.

Wyoming Machine in Stacy and Ajax Metal Forming in Fridley are newly making ventilator parts.

And, as of last week, Maple Plain-based Protolabs shipped 7.5 million 3-D-printed nasal swabs, molded ventilator parts and COVID-19 test kit cases to medical-device manufacturers, Harvard and Cornell university research labs and to medical centers battling the coronavirus pandemic.

At Marvin, the U worked with the company to develop a box that protects health care workers in intensive-care units and surgeries from any saliva spray from ventilated patients.

Marvin brought in Polaris to help because, as window makers, the company did not have experience or expertise to bend polycarbonate plastic.

“This opportunity came up, and we said let us use our skills to see what we can do,” said Randy Larson, the Polaris research-and-development supervisor in Roseau. “We sort of stumbled over each other to help out.”

Four Polaris workers used press brakes to bend the thick plastic, as the two companies came up with prototypes.

“This is really cool of them,” said Hogan from the U.“Hundreds of health care workers will be helped by this because its reusable.”

Marvin and Polaris plan to make and donate dozens to the U. They already donated a few to Life Care Medical Center in Roseau to help its coronavirus nursing staff.

“At the beginning of the year, if you had asked me if we were going to be making medical devices, most people would have looked at us like we were crazy,” said Paul Marvin, the company’s CEO. “But now, we are finding a way to do what needs to be done.”

The Marvin company has done it before. During World War II, Marvin stopped making windows to can peas for Campbell’s Soup and to make ammunition boxes for soldiers.

And the ventilator boxes aren’t the only thing the company has started making. Since March, Marvin has teamed with Lake of the Woods Brewing Co. to make 1,200 bottles of hand sanitizer and worked with the local high school robotics team to make face shields for Life Care hospital.

Last month, it converted its visitors center in Warroad into a drive-through COVID-19 testing site staffed by Sanford Medical Center nurses.

The changes came at a critical time. When the pandemic hit the United States, “there was an immediate decline in business — life falling off a cliff,” Paul Marvin said.

By late April, the company began furloughing some of its 6,000 workers for up to two weeks across 14 plants.

Marvin spent “hundreds of thousands” on coronavirus leave policies, its new virus testing site and on masks, face shields and disinfectants for workers. It set up community billboards and printed factory posters and floor stickers with health alerts and social-distancing reminders for itself and other businesses.

“It’s what you do when you are in a small town,” Paul Marvin said, adding that big companies in other small Minnesota towns are doing the same.

Read the full article here.


Dee DePass is a business reporter for the Star Tribune. She spent the last four years covering Minnesota’s manufacturing and mining industries. She previously covered the economy, workplace issues and banking.

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