By Michael P. Mayko
SHELTON — Faced with impending pandemic-induced layoffs and furloughs, Bing Carbone and his executives staff at Modern Plastics had to think fast.
“We had to come up with a game plan,” he recalled. “We are in the business of plastics and saw a need for mass production of face shields and face masks so we quickly retrofitted our operation.”
Ordinarily, Modern Plastics is a sheet, rod, tube and film distributor of plastic medical-grade materials, producing products for companies including Sikorsky Aircraft, Electric Boat/General Dynamics, General Electric Medical and Lockheed Martin.
Shelton’s Modern Plastics quickly changed gears to meet the needs for personal protective equipment in the early stages of the pandemic. Now they are hiring and expanding.
But within two weeks after receiving the first call for personal protective equipment, the company began churning out health and safety equipment. Workers began shaping and cutting the plastic, drilling holes for the rivets and attaching the elastic for hundreds of face shields.
Once the retrofit was completed, Modern Plastics was getting calls from nurses, parents and spouses of hospital workers and first responders looking to buy small quantities of masks and shields for their loved ones.
“Three or four weeks in, we were selling millions of shields,” said David Altieri, Modern’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We realized we couldn’t fill those small orders, so at one point we asked everybody here to pick a name that called and we just shipped them boxes of shields (at no charge). We never said why we did it. We just did it. I would say we gave away for sure thousands.”
A batch was donated to Shelton first responders and health care workers.
Now they hand-produce some 300,000 shields a month. And in addition to the masks and face shields, the company also produces shields for intubation tubes — the device that goes down a throat to help a patient breathe. The shield serves as a defense between the patient and the healthcare worker.
“We prioritized Connecticut, its hospitals and its first responders,” Carbone said.
Instead of laying off during the months when Connecticut was closed down — the state hit its peak of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths in mid-April — they hired, adding a second shift in Shelton. They leased a warehouse in Stratford and opened up a second facility in Ohio. Carbone said they went from 17 to 50 employees.
“We’ll probably add another 75 here soon,” Carbone said.
Modern has created an Infection Control Division and are in the process of purchasing machinery that will produce the shields in seconds. It will be contained in a 10,000 square foot addition, Carbone said. He anticipates adding another 6,000 square feet next year.
“We anticipate our business growing even more,” Altieri said. “Our business has grown every year since we moved to Shelton.”
Once a Bridgeport institution that began as Modern Glass 75 years ago, Modern Plastics moved to Long Hill Cross Road in 2010 in a facility built by Bob Scinto.
Today, the company custom-makes the plastic shields seen at retail checkout counters, Bridgeport’s libraries and town buildings in Fairfield, Westport and Weston. They make accordion fold out desk shields for schools including Trumbull’s Christian Heritage and the Kent Center School. They make face shields that attach to caps for restaurant workers and Little League players. They make parts for ventilators. The lists goes on.
With football starting in some places, Altieri said if someone designed a special face shield for a helmet, “we would make it.”
“We’re reactive to people’s designs,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Carbone gathered employees for Murphy’s Friday visit so he could see the faces behind the company.
“I’m impressed,” Murphy told them. “I hope you understand the lives you are saving by almost overnight pivoting the business. Healthcare workers, first responders, teachers now are protected. This is legacy stuff you can tell your kids and grandkids about. I am so thankful for folks like you and the leadership you have.”
Murphy said he intends to tell Modern Plastics’s story to Congress and make the Shelton business part of the permanent medical supply chain being set up.
“We shouldn’t have been so dependent on other countries to produce life-saving materials,” he told them. “It’s critical that medical supplies be produced in this country.
“We can’t be in a position where we depend on only foreign sources for medical supplies,” the Senator said afterward. “We want U.S. suppliers to be in a position to scale up very quickly when needed. Maybe we provide contracts to companies like this so they can keep some space open and machines on hand to scale up if they need to.”