Washington’s manufacturing community shows agility in meeting the call to fight COVID-19

WA Governor’s Office
Oct 5 · 5 min read

Washington manufacturers and other businesses have proven they can adapt quickly, with hundreds responding to Gov. Jay Inslee’s call to support the state’s response to COVID-19. During this pandemic, Washington companies have found ways to collaborate and change their production lines to churn out products that were not a part of their core business.

“We need to seize our own destiny,” Inslee said at a news conference earlier this year. “Now, it is time for us to turn to our manufacturing community for the equipment we need in this fight in this war.”

Box of surgical style face masks.
Box of surgical style face masks.
Photo courtesy of the state Department of Enterprise Services.

Inslee urged manufacturers to shift their operations to make things like surgical masks, swab tests, saline solution, vials, N95 masks, gloves, surgical gowns and face shields. That shift has happened — and a lot more — showcasing the innovative manufacturing agility in Washington state.

As the manufacturing community came forward, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Center Impact Washington loaned manufacturing experts to the effort. Impact Washington worked alongside the Department of Commerce to help over 60 manufacturers and business adjust their operations to meet the state’s growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE). They also provided guidance to businesses to get the proper certification and assist them in navigating the state procurement and testing process to ensure quality and usability of the PPE. More manufacturers retooled on their own, and additional manufactures who already were producing PPE reached out to state purchasers.

Distillers get into the hand sanitizer spirit

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when hand sanitizer was in short supply, nearly 40 Washington state distillers quickly responded. These distillers had to learn new processes, buy new equipment and retool their operations. Some even shipped the new hand sanitizer product in traditional spirit bottles when conventional containers couldn’t be found.

Woodinville Whiskey, Glass Vodka in Seattle, Heritage Distilling Co. in Gig Harbor, DryFly Distilling in Spokane and Wildwood Spirits Co. in Bothell are some of the Washington distilleries who rose to the occasion. Their hand sanitizers have become so popular among Washingtonians that many distillers are keeping it in their product lines.

In late June, the Chehalis Tribe of Indians and Heritage Distilling company were set to debut a 35,000-square-foot brewery, distillery and restaurant. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this partnership pivoted and their first production was not a craft-distilled liquor, but hand-sanitizer.

Warehouse full of boxes of PPE.
Warehouse full of boxes of PPE.
Photo courtesy of the state Department of Enterprise Services.

Aerospace supply chain takes off into PPE production

Tacoma-based Global Tech Plastics and Tool Gauge, manufacturers in aerospace and medical industries, are two more companies that answered Inslee’s call. Both companies maintain important certifications that allow them to manufacture specific types of medical components.

Impact Washington brought the companies together with Design that Matters (DiM), a Redmond nonprofit that typically focuses on medical devices for global health in low-resource settings. DiM convened over 40 other experts, who in just over a week developed a free, turnkey package of design files, instructions for use, labeling, packaging and quality systems advice for use by any high-volume manufacturer.

DiM’s prototype process involved gathering feedback from nurses, doctors and infectious disease experts from the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center, the UW Medical Center and Massachusetts General Brigham Medical Center, who tested out the various face shield designs in real-life hospital settings.

Thanks to Global Tech Plastics and Tool Gauge, the face shield has been adapted for injection molding, casting, die-cutting and extrusion processes, which allows the face shields to be produced in higher volumes. Both organizations are currently producing this clinician-approved, reusable face shield and have been fulfilling state-issued purchased orders.

Waterjet manufacturer cuts a quick path to PPE

Flow International Corporation, developer and manufacturer of ultra-high-pressure waterjet cutting systems, repurposed their operations to be part of the solution to PPE supply for Washington state. Flow was already providing face shields to dozens of medical facilities, small businesses and first responders in early April when the state Department of Enterprise Services (DES), which is purchasing PPE on behalf of the state, began rapidly ramping up and evaluating potential PPE providers for state procurements.

Flow reached out to DES with samples, timetables and multiple delivery scenarios, and it didn’t take long to align efforts and start production.

“We’ve made sure that anyone who needs a face shield can order from Flow, even if they only need one,” said Brian Sherick, Flow’s vice president of global sales. “However, working with the state procurement effort required a different level of effort and complexity, from the pricing and sourcing of raw materials, to the timing of production and delivery. DES was very helpful in guiding us through this effort, and the positive impact of having this much inventory readily available for distribution is immeasurable.”

Flow has delivered 200,000 medical-grade face shields to the State of Washington to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Row of boxes full of PPE.
Row of boxes full of PPE.
Photo courtesy of the state Department of Enterprise Services.

Buy local: making Made in Washington PPE widely available

While DES is buying directly from many manufacturers for state supplies, the Association of Washington Businesses (AWB) launched a virtual marketplace to help all Washington businesses access manufacturers producing PPE.

PPE Connect is an online portal to connect small businesses with local, made-in-Washington protective equipment in the quantities that they need, including small orders, at prices that would otherwise be reserved for large bulk purchasers. The site is free to use and available to all Washington businesses. Today, approximately 100 Washington manufacturers are listed in the database, making items such as face masks, face shields, gowns and hand sanitizer.

In addition, the site provides resources to help businesses operate in the “new normal.” Small businesses can find easy-to-use, downloadable templates and tools for everything from in-store signage to social media and communication tools to help them serve customers and their employees throughout the Safe Start reopening.

“I am so grateful for these Washington companies for stepping up to help Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “This shows what can happen when the people of our state come together to help protect each other and slow the spread of this disease.”

Washington State Governor's Office

News and updates from Washington state Gov.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store