Local Company Turns Operations Over to Make Face Shields
By JENNIFER GLACKIN
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
GARWOOD — A small local company has found a way to aid medical professionals during the Coronavirus pandemic. The Shea family of The Pen Company of America (PCA) in Garwood modified their plastic pen manufacturing plant to supply healthcare workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). The company typically employs injection molding techniques to manufacture promotional pens, patented construction markers, and casing for medical markers.
“Nobody’s really handing out promotional pens right now,” laughed Colleen Shea, a fourth-generation pen manufacturer, so after a discussion with their chief executive officer at Rotuba Extruders in Linden in March, PCA began producing splash guards (also known as face shields). As of April 16, they can produce 50,000 splash guards per week.
“It’s a very simple design,” Ms. Shea said. A rounded plastic shield with a foam strip at the top, and a Velcro strap to wrap around the user’s head. Initially, the Shea family sent the design to major hospital networks in the area, such as Atlantic Health Systems, RWJBarnabas Health, and Hackensack Meridian Health, for evaluation. Once the designs were approved, they began small scale production the last week of March.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Ms. Shea said, “but I was on a mission to do this.” PCA ordered the Velcro and foam via second day air, to begin production. The first delivery, 1,000 splashguards to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, was hand-delivered on April 3. Since then, PCA has flown in new machinery to help ramp up production. They’ve purchased a ribbon cutter to cut the Velcro strips and two card hole punchers that are strong enough to cut through the plastic shields. This also enabled the Shea family to hire back six of the 10 workers they laid off due to the pandemic shutdowns. Now, with the new machinery and rehired workforce, 10,000 face shields are produced daily.
Ms. Shea said PCA is producing shields for area hospitals and for smaller organizations like police departments, urgent care centers, and EMS units. Other essential businesses, that are smaller and at “the bottom of the chain when it comes to sourcing and getting PPE (personal protective equipment),” have also been able to get face shields now that PCA is producing them, said Ms. Shea.
The feedback from the hospital workers have been positive; one oncologist even called the splash guards “awesome,” said Ms. Shea. The shields are made of cellulose acetate, a strong plastic used in high-end welder’s masks. It is made from a renewable resource and chemically resistant, which means the shields can be disinfected and are reusable. According to Ms. Shea, the reusability is a huge benefit and hospitals have reported being able to use less resources because of PCA’s splash guards. She also said some of the hospitals have contacted them and expressed an interest in using the shields after the pandemic is over.
Changing their production is nothing new for the Shea family. Ms. Shea’s great grandfather started the company selling fountain pen kits in New York City in the 1920s. Then, after their grandfather came back from World War II, he took over and began manufacturing ball point pens in Jersey City, NJ. In 2011, Pen Company of America was acquired by their plastic supplier, Rotuba Extruders in Linden, NJ. The day to day operations at the manufacturing plant in Garwood are run by Ms. Shea, her father, and two brothers.
Recently, the United States government chose PCA to produce the pens for the 2020 census after an intense vetting process. This is what American manufacturing can do, said Ms. Shea, “change what you make on a dime” to meet the needs of the community. She also said creating and manufacturing the splash guards really came down to “what we could to help.”