Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.

EP 3 - Manufacturers Impact for PPE, Testing Kit Supply | Teel Plastics | Baraboo, Wisconsin

April 02, 2021 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Episode 3
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.
EP 3 - Manufacturers Impact for PPE, Testing Kit Supply | Teel Plastics | Baraboo, Wisconsin
Show Notes Transcript

“I think most people who would be listening to this have probably interacted with one of our products at least once and I don’t know whether to say your welcome or I’m sorry depending on your opinion of the (testing) kit, but it’s obviously a critical part of what we make and that is medical swab sticks, our market that we’ve been in for over 40 years.” – Christian Herrild | Director of Growth Strategies | Teel Plastics 

In the third episode of “Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” we feature Teel Plastics out of Baraboo, Wisconsin. In March 2020, Teel was asked by Vice President Mike Pence’s office to increase COVID-19 test kit production. In Response, Teel adjusted its priorities to increase production of swab stick handles for test kits. Throughout the episode, we learn how the company went from producing 100 million per month to an increased capacity of 200 million per month in 2021 and what other critical PPE the company has been manufacturing in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our Guest joining us for this episode is Christian Herrild, Director of Growth Strategies of Teel Plastics who is an experienced sales and marketing professional working in the plastics industry. Tune in to this episode as we discuss with Christian on how Teel Plastics ramped up production for medical swab sticks for testing kits and PPE while also experiencing business growth in 2020. 

In this episode we answer: 

  • Tell us about the company and what Teel Plastics does. (1:52)
  • How did you ramp up production for the medical swab sticks for testing kits? (3:27)
  • What does it mean to Teel, your employees and the community of Baraboo to produce these swab sticks? How has it impacted the business? (5:52)
  • What other PPE products has Teel Plastics produced in 2020? (8:33)
  • Where do you see the future for Teel in 2021 and beyond? (14:06)
  • Generally, where do you see the manufacturing industry going in Wisconsin moving forward? (17:51)

In next week’s episode, we are going to be talking with Bill Berrien, CEO of Pindel Global Precision and Found of PRODx. Plus, we will also hear from Jon Close, President of Linetec. We will learn more about their stories in 2020 and discuss the future of manufacturing in Wisconsin. 

If you found value in this episode or want to hear the stories from Wisconsin manufacturers, please hit that subscribe button and share it with your peers. We really want to showcase all the good news stories of how manufacturing was critical in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

 

Christian Herrild | Director of Growth Strategies | Teel Plastics
I think most people who would be listening to this have probably interacted with one of our products at least once and I don't really know whether to say you're welcome or I’m sorry.

Voiceover
You're listening to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Now, here's your host, WMC Vice President of Communications & Marketing Nick Novak.

Nick Novak (Host) | Vice President of Communications & Marketing | WMC
Hello and welcome to this week's episode of Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m your host Nick Novak and today we're going to talk about Teel Plastics in Baraboo. Before we get started though I’d like to thank our program partners Baker Tilly, Michael best and of course us here at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Together we remain committed to our mission of recognizing excellence in manufacturing here in our state.

Joining me today from Teel Plastics in Baraboo is Christian Herrild, the Director of Growth Strategies. Christian, thank you so much for taking the time to join Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.

Christian Herrild
Really appreciate the opportunity to be here, I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well let's first get to know Teel Plastics in Baraboo. I drive by it all the time anytime I take 12 up through Baraboo I always see the big Teel building right there off the 12 bypass and so tell us a little bit about the company and what Teel does.

Christian Herrild
Sure, Teel is a plastic manufacturing company that primarily does extrusion and injection molding. We also have what we call enterprise manufacturing systems or EMS customers and that's a little bit of a unique thing for Teel where we make what is usually a unique or technically challenging product for a very large customer and that is a fair portion of our business and then on the other side for the more traditional extrusion and injection molding, we operate in five vertical markets and that would be medical, medical device products, water treatment applications, film converting cores. We make some industrial piping products, conduit and pressurized gas pipe for gas distribution, we also do some work in cosmetics packaging for primary cosmetics packaging for US-based suppliers.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well very good, well I know that you know I’ve been out to the facility there in Baraboo and it's really an amazing plant and a you know you guys do some amazing work there, it definitely doesn't look like what some people might envision manufacturing looks like and so I was really impressed the few times I’ve been out there. Let's talk a little bit about 2020 though, let's kind of look back to you know a year ago and the beginning of the pandemic. Teel plastics actually played a really critical role in helping to respond to COVID-19 because your team actually is one of the biggest producers of the plastic sticks that they need for all of the swabs for COVID-19 testing and so tell me a little bit about how that came to be and how you really ramped up production for that? 

Christian Herrild
I think most people who would be listening to this have probably interacted with one of our products at least once and I don't really know whether to say you're welcome or I’m sorry depending upon your opinion of the kit but...

Nick Novak (Host)
I’m one of those people, I’ve had it up my nose a couple times and it's not pleasant but still very important.

Christian Herrild
Yeah it's obviously a critical part that we make and that is medical swab sticks, our market that we've been in for over 40 years. We work with Puritan Medical Products, they are the ones who are the predominant US supplier of the testing kit swabs that are used for COVID testing and we've been supplying them for a long time. They historically been in a number of markets, medical disease diagnosis is obviously one of them and in response to this COVID-19 pandemic we had dramatically ramped up production on some existing equipment and supplies that we have so I want to say starting March 5th, we had a couple lines in this facility that we were informed were critical for this application. They've been running 24/7 since then and I literally mean through weekends, holidays, everything. When that first came out, that that was a critical item. We had an internal meeting that those lines became a number one priority for manufacturing so if they ever went down it was an all hands call to stop what you're doing and be sure we get those lines back up and running. It also put us sort of in this unique position when the earlier safer at home order came out in March because we need to figure out how to keep production running given the nature of what we had and we were sending people home in the office who we could but you know it's a huge benefit to staff to be able to keep things running, be able to keep people interfacing with the plant and still have critical plant workers be able to be in the business.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and I want to talk a little bit about the numbers here because I mean you know a lot of this is pretty impressive you know going into 2021 you know you have a goal of producing about 200 million of these per month. You were doing about 100 million a month throughout 2020 and because of all this you've had to hire more employees, you've actually moved some of your other production to a new facility and expanded that way, I mean what has this meant over the last year you know not just for Teel but for your employees the community of Baraboo? You know, how has this impacted the business?

Christian Herrild
It's been an amazing rate of change and it's been a lot of really good opportunities. I mean we did some things that would be challenging even in normal times and obviously COVID-19 over the top of that really makes it a lot more complicated so within the past year since the start of COVID, we have added about 80 production employees, we've added a number of satellite employees as well to support them. We took four production lines out of our current headquarters facility and we moved them into a facility that we renovated and got ready to handle our manufacturing operations in just eight weeks so that was ramped up, that facility is producing now and that created space to start to have injection molding machines arrive. They started to arrive just before Christmas, they're going to continue to arrive through March and we are working on having all of those in and validated basically as quick as we can so we can hit those goals of production. In addition, we brought in more extrusion lines that required reshuffling of some lines within our facilities, so the growth has been enormous, our production employees have really done a great job of rolling with that and understanding that there is some movement for shifts, there's been some movement for overtime. We need to make other manufacturing changes to the floor in terms of things like work cells, limiting changeovers and lines, limiting people working on different lines, it really made it a lot more complicated and it's a bit different than historically how we've liked to do things, but our staff has really done a great job of understanding the need and understanding why we're doing these things and been supportive and we did a lot of communication early on in the pandemics so that people understood what we were doing, where it was going and why it was so critical and I think that did a lot to have buy-in for employees, it really helped them understand why we said it's critical this line is running they know where that product is going and they can support that as well.

Nick Novak (Host)
So Christian, we're talking about the swab sticks that that Teel has been producing and obviously you're upping production in 2021 and that's due to some work with the Department of Defense, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Christian Herrild
Yeah we got a large grant from the Department of Defense which is going to allow us to go from having two machines making these swap sticks to having ten machines making swap sticks, basically bringing in injection molding equipment to be able to ramp up that production at a rate that's way faster than we could on our own.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and this isn't the only thing that Teel is doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously the test kits are critically important to determining you know where the spread of COVID-19 is, but you're doing a lot of other work and producing a lot of other products that are also critical to the response, can you tell us a little bit about those?

Christian Herrild
Yeah and that's, you know, the COVID test kit swab sticks obviously get the most attention, but we make some respirator components for a supplier, we brought in a second line for them in three weeks and managed to get that validated and running because their demand just went through the roof. We have some components used for oral hygiene that are necessary for people once they're on a respirator or ventilator try to prevent secondary infections and there's been quite a bit of growth there as well. We make some breathing component tubings for flex PVC that people use for oxygen delivery and things like that so there's just a whole storm of different products like that and those are just on the medical side. On the industrial side, we saw increased demand for cores for medical film winding, we saw increased demand for things like sprayer components, for people doing disinfection of schools and grocery stores so it's been a very large response and I’ll tell you, we learned a lot about where some of our end products go just because some of these applications were things we weren't even aware about until the pandemic started, we started having those conversations with customers.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and I think the you know the whole point of this podcast and the Manufacturer of the Year awards that we've done every single you know year for you know the past few decades with the folks over at Michael best and Baker Tilly is to highlight excellence in manufacturing and given that we couldn't be together at The Pfister like we normally would be in in Milwaukee celebrating all these good news stories that manufacturing have had over the past year you know we really wanted to find a way to showcase that excellence and I mean I think the Teel story responds to that just exactly in the right way because you've proven that when there's a crisis, when there's something that needs to be done, manufacturers step up you know from the folks on the factory floor, to the folks in the front office, I mean there's just every single person is so critical to making sure that we're able to respond like I said to these crises that that we're going through and COVID-19 is no different and so how did it all, you know, if you could talk to your employees and look back at the last year, you know, what would you say to them and you know and how they responded in this past year? What would be your message to them?

Christian Herrild
Really the message would start with thank you. I mean it's it really comes down to them, I mean it it's a lot of inconvenient things for them and for everybody else you know going from being able to do meetups and discussions in break rooms to needing to implement limitations when people can be in the facility, requiring face masks or face shields and then face masks and additional social distancing and all these precautions and you know they have really done a great job of stepping up and understanding what needs to be done and then sort of buckling down and doing it so we couldn't have done it without them. We've done a lot of communication so they understand both the impact of what they're doing in the benefit and what we find and I think most other manufacturers would find the same thing, that you know, our employees want to do the right thing if it's explained to them why we're doing these things, why we're taking these steps, they're willing to step in and do it and our employees have really done an exceptional job of doing that and I think for most manufacturers, the people that they are that they have working for them would also do that if the time came and they were called on and I know that we are not unique in being the only manufacturer in Wisconsin that stepped up and ramped up and changed things to try to help the country as a whole deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well you're exactly right about that, we're having a lot of great conversations on this podcast about what manufacturers have done over the last year and Christian we're going to keep talking with you here, we are going to take just a quick little break to thank our program sponsors for Wisconsin Made. The Podcast., but on the other side of that break we're going to talk a little bit more about you know where Teel is going, where you see the future of the manufacturing industry and a couple other items so stick with us.

Voiceover
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Nick Novak (Host)
Welcome back to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. We're joined by Christian Herrild, the Director of Growth Strategies at Teel Plastics in Baraboo. We've been having a great discussion about a lot of the things that Teel has done over the past year to respond to COVID-19, but obviously you know there's still a long way to go, we're still you know kind of figuring out this new normal that we all live in and I want to talk a little bit about what the next year looks like. We've talked about the fact that you're upping production on these testing kits and those swab sticks and a lot of other products that you're making, where do you see the future for Teel in 2021? You know, do you think that you're going to continue kind of in this COVID-19 response or do you think you're going to go back to some of the more traditional products that you were making?

Christian Herrild
I think for most of the year we're going to be in the immediate COVID-19 response. Unfortunately, we're still going to be heavily ramping up swab sticks and other materials that are supporting people out there as we continue the vaccine roll out and the disease gets more under control. I think as we get later in the year, we're going to see and we are already starting to see on the medical device side that COVID is not unique in the fact that there's testing that can be done for it and I think the increase in diagnostic testing for transmissible diseases like flu like COVID, some of that stuff is going to continue to draw a lot of interest from medical players and that market at least for Teel can be around for a long time to come.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I think, you know, I think you're definitely right about that we've seen changes in every aspect of the industry and you're probably right we are going to continue to see those sticking around maybe longer than some of us would have anticipated a year ago. I want to talk a little bit about the makeup of you know your workforce and how you're dealing with the fact that there is kind of still this this expectation of having work from home if you're able to. Obviously, if you're manufacturing a product you have to do that in person, you can't do that remotely from your couch, but how’s Teel balancing this new normal with having some folks working from home, you know some folks in the building, how's that going and what do you see moving forward?

Christian Herrild
You know, that's a great question and we've kind of segmented into layers because you know as you said I can't have someone you know inspecting a product while sitting on their couch, they've got to be in the building and so there's a segment of our workforce that really has to be here to physically interact with the product, interact with machines and then we move up to sort of the next layer of people who are immediately doing supervision, doing repair, doing material handling, they're obviously going to be in the building pretty frequently and then as you get more into the collateral support departments things like accounting, things like purchasing, we still are encouraging people to work from home. Our feeling is that isn't going to go away, that people who are interested in working from home are going to be able to do that on some type of basis. We aren't planning on transitioning anything to a completely work from home status right now, but that definitely is going to be an option where we put the tools in place we have the systems to be able to handle that and for some people that's going to continue to be a day a week or a couple of days a week probably for a long time, yet if not for forever.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and that's where I mean we're hearing that from manufacturers from you know all different types of industries across Wisconsin and the country. I mean in some cases, it's as high as you know 30 percent of businesses are going to have some type of work from home policy and you know whether it be part-time or full-time and pre-pandemic, you know, you maybe had a couple percent of the workforce that was working from home on a regular basis and so obviously a lot of changes that we're going to be seeing moving forward and it'll be interesting to see those things happen. I do want to kind of shift our focus a little bit, you know, from just based on Teel, but more on to the general manufacturing industry. It's the largest industry in Wisconsin and clearly an important part of our economy so I want to talk about the future of manufacturing in Wisconsin. If you had to take a guess today, do you do you see manufacturing going in the positive direction, going backward, where are you seeing manufacturing going?

Christian Herrild
I’m definitely seeing it going in the positive direction for Wisconsin and I think across a lot of the United States. I think you're going to see the same thing, more localized manufacturing, more close to end use manufacturing, I think is going to benefit the industry as a whole. The tariffs start to put pressure on people to take some items back from China, I think that is going to continue. I think that these very long supply chain lead times where you know you order something and it's not going to show up for 16 weeks and you want to do everything just in time, I don't think that's going to go away. There's still going to be global supply chains, there's still going to be just-in-time manufacturing, but I think that there is some hard evaluations on some of those things now to say does it really need to be that just in time do we really, should we really be ordering something that can shut us down and we know if we run out at 16 weeks to get more and that's just going to benefit people that are closer to end use customers if there is there's going to be a little bit more localization of that supply chain, in my opinion.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well WMC's CEO Kurt Bauer, he actually wrote a column and we talked about this back in February at our focus on manufacturing virtual event that we held and he talked about the fact that you know that was a clear thing, that we figured out from COVID- 19 is that supply chains were an issue because a lot of supply chains relied on Asian countries and other countries to get stuff here and a lot of that kind of fell by the wayside because of COVID-19, so you're seeing that the manufacturing industry will well not entirely but start to look for ways to maybe shorten those supply chains?

Christian Herrild
My feeling is that that's what's going to happen and that's what we're seeing a little bit and that's you know COVID-19 is obviously the most recent one, but in the past probably decade or a little more there have been a number of these type of supply crisis type situations. You saw that with major hurricanes hitting Puerto Rico where they do a tremendous amount of medical device manufacturing, you saw that with the Fukushima Daiyachi disaster and what that did to some automotive supply chains based on the length of lead time and the concentration of supply and so what we're seeing or what we're being asked by a lot of our customers is you know second sourcing, multiple plant locations trying to assess how long it would take if they said you need to do a tremendous ramp up, how long is it going to take? What's your longest lead time item and what can you do to improve that? So, you know, I think that some of that work got halted with COVID just because it's difficult to set up and ramp up manufacturing when you're in this type of situation but I think for more local manufacturing supplying local industry there's going to be a lot of benefit to that longer term to have stuff be sourced locally.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I you know you're hitting the nail on the head on so many things that we're hearing from manufacturers all across the state and so we have just a few seconds left here before we need to wrap up and so I want to give you an opportunity to you know if you were on the stage in Milwaukee, if we were having the Manufacture of the Year awards in person and you were holding one of those great trophies, what would be your message to the people in that room? What would you tell them, you know, about the last year that Teel has had?

Christian Herrild
You know, Teel had a lot of success in navigating the pandemic, but we definitely didn't do it alone. We had a lot of support from our employees, we had a lot of support from our partners. Obviously we're a manufacturer, but we work with other manufacturers and that's everything from local companies that were distilleries that switched over to making ethanol for hand sanitizer to people that did local fabrication shops that jumped on parts we needed done and it really was those relationships and that supply chain and our people that made what we did this year possible and so it would be a big thank you to them and the role that they played in our success.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well if there's one thing that we learned in the last year it's that when there's a problem, when there's some type of crisis the private sector definitely steps up and responds in the way in which they need to and you know that's one of my big takeaways from the last year, so Christian, Director of Growth Strategies at Teel Plastics in Baraboo. thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us on Wisconsin Made. The Podcast., we really appreciate your time.

Christian Herrild
Thank you very much for having me.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well that has been our conversation with Christian Herrild, Director of Growth Strategies of Teel Plastics in Baraboo. Next week, we'll continue to share stories from other manufacturers adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and we will highlight Pindell Global Precision and PRODx from New Berlin and Linetec from Wausau as we shed light on their business challenges, opportunities and successes. Plus, we'll learn more about the future state of manufacturing in Wisconsin post pandemic. If you found value in this episode, please hit that subscribe button and share it with your peers. For now, this is Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. I’m your host Nick Novak, thank you for listening.

Voiceover
This is Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.