New Albany manufacturers making masks and components to help fight coronavirus

The nose pieces start out as large aluminum sheets, at upper left, and come off the line stamped out at right.
April 15th, 2020     Business Featured

Cooper Electrical Controls specializes in unique high-technology manufacturing solutions but right now they are making a product about as simple as one can image: nose pieces for medical masks.

The project came about almost by accident.

Owner and president Gary Cooper happened to see a story about Blue Delta Jeans making medical masks. Blue Delta normally makes high-end custom-made blue jeans but the company was founded by Josh West, who at one time was industrial recruiter for Union County and who is a friend of Cooper’s. As orders for jeans slowed West found growing interest in the masks, which would provide a public service and also keep employees busy. His plan is to make 30,000 to 50,000 masks per week.

“I told him congratulations on making the masks. I appreciate your doing that,” he said. Little did he know this would provide an opportunity for him to contribute as well.

West texted back to say thanks and also said he wanted to talk to Cooper about a technical thing.

“I said, sure, call me,” he said. “West called and said they were looking for something to go in there for the nosepiece (for their masks).”

“With our background we knew what it would take to make that,” he said. “I said, yeah, this is what it would take to make them. You probably would want to stamp them out.”

“I came back and talked to my team,” Cooper said. “We have a lot of good professional folks here with a lot of expertise and knowledge.”

“An employee of mine had a machine but it didn’t work out, so we built our own machine to do it and started stamping them out,” he said.

Cooper’s team made West some samples first and he said that’s what he wanted. “So we started stamping them out and sending them to him,” Cooper said. “He called me this last week and said he didn’t know how long this thing was going to last but that the volume was going to be pretty incredible.”

Considering this, Cooper built another machine. “This week we’re trying to get it online, just working out some kinks so we will have a couple of machines stamping them out,” he said.

While they are not there yet, they are working toward two shift that would allow them to produce probably 70,000 or 80,000 a day.

“They did say to supply the people we would need 190,000 a week so that’s what we’re going to try to do to accommodate that,” Cooper said.

“We had some N-95 masks on hand and we tried to duplicate that,” he said. “Josh is making a mask, he got it approved by the hospital but it’s not approved by FDA. The folks I talked to this morning are going to want a little bit different material and a little bit different dimension.”

“I think the people I talked with this morning may stay in the business of making masks from now on. They are probably working on getting more federal approval that Josh did,” he added.

Since word of what Cooper’s team is doing has spread he has heard from others beside Delta Blue.

“I just got off the phone with somebody in North Carolina,” he said. “Since I have the extra capacity I reached out to them and there’s another company in Florida so I’m reaching out to them as well.”

In the meantime they are doing things to make their process more efficient.

“I have no idea how long it’s going to last,” he said. “I hope it’s not going to last long. That’s not what we want to do. We want to make manufacturing equipment. This kind of helped keeping our people busy during the slow time during the coronavirus.”

Coincidentally, Cooper’s neighbor across Sam T. Barkley Drive, Kevin Charles Fine Furniture, is making masks now.

Rusty Berryhill

“I talked to Rusty (Kevin Charles president Rusty Berryhill),” he said. “Of course their company is owned by somebody in Florida. That’s who their primary customers are and I think he is making them for hospitals in Florida.”

In fact, an April 9 story on WTVA said that was the case.

Berryhill and 12 employees began making masks near the end of March and had switched from furniture to mask-making, the story said.

Berryhill said he was not making any money right now for making the masks and would continue as long as he can get the needed material, according to the story.

“We just feel like we’re doing the right thing,” Berryhill was quoted as saying.

Asked whether he and Berryhill might work together, Cooper said he believes the mask design being used at Kevin Charles does not need nose pieces.

He said West also made several masks without nose pieces but changed design. “A nose piece just helps form it, fit it around your face better,” Cooper said.

The nose pieces are made out of very pliable aluminum because they do need to be soft so you can conform it to your face.

“We’re probably not going to switch over and make masks forever,” he said, but will continue for now.

“We put this together in a week, which is kind of a major feat to do,” he said. “We had to order material but we had some controls that we put on there. We had some material here on hand (to manufacture the machine), luckily, so we didn’t have to wait on three or four week lead time.”

“We called an outfit in Birmingham, Phoenix Metals, so that worked out pretty good. So we were able to deliver several thousand in about a week,” he said.

He said they probably have made 160,000 or 170,000 as of Thursday and it looks like demand will grow.

“There’s a lady in Georgia. I guess they have just formed a group over there,” he said. “She saw about us on Facebook or something and emailed us on our website saying, hey, I need 1,000 of these. So the next day I sent 1,000 to Athens, Ga.”

Cooper hopes some good will come out of this.

“I hope we have learned a lesson, not to rely on manufacturers outside our country on crucial medicines and masks and that sort of thing,” he said. “I hope we will start manufacturing here.”

He doesn’t think we should trust or rely on China, for instance.

“We should put more manufacturing in the U. S., bring it back,” he said. “You can’t rely on China for your livelihood because they are not going to have your best interests at heart.”

According to the media, he said, they are making 70 percent of our antibiotics. “That’s crazy,” he said. “This crisis with the coronavirus is proof that we don’t need to rely on other people to supply our critical components to maintain our healthcare.”

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