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Metal Supply Chain Rises to Occasion

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In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, service centers and other businesses in the metals supply chain have typically been labeled as "essential businesses" by state and municipal governments, due to their role in keeping the supply chain of critical metals moving.

But numerous manufacturers and others are also demonstrating their value in another way, by rapidly shifting production to meet the demand for personal protection equipment and other materials crucial to fighting the pandemic on numerous fronts.

Steel Warehouse Companies Supplying Hospital Tubing
Lock Joint Tube and Chesterfield Steel, both Steel Warehouse Companies, are currently supplying one of their key customers steel for the manufacture of mechanical tubing for hospital equipment amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.

On March 23, Chesterfield was contacted by Welded Tube as they were in need of an emergency order of steel to support their manufacture of mechanical tubing to build hospital equipment. Chesterfield partnered with North Star Bluescope Steel with a swift supply plan to meet the critical delivery need.

“This was a great opportunity to not only support our domestic partners and customer with orders at a time when demand is declining, but also to provide a critical need as we fight this pandemic. It also shows the importance of steel as a key component to our manufacturing sector, and our ability to react quickly as a supply chain in this time of need,” said Carl Parker, president of Chesterfield Steel.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Lock Joint Tube was suppling mechanical and structural tubing to most hospital manufactures in North America. In the past three weeks they’ve experienced a ten-fold increase in orders.

“Steel Warehouse would like to thank all the healthcare supply chain and medical providers for acting swiftly in these unprecedented times. We are proud to be a small part of an overwhelming effort to take care of our communities,” said Ted Lerman, CEO of Steel Warehouse. 

Throughout the crisis, Steel Warehouse’s employees are working diligently to provide customers their needs and take care of each other. Plant personnel are showing up early to sanitize work spaces. Operations teams are also exploring ways they can impact their community. One group of Steel Warehouse employees organized a truck to go to Chicago to retrieve materials to make masks for a local hospital in South Bend.

“Our employees’ desire to not only take care of our customers, but also, each other is deeply moving. Our employees’ compassion and work ethic, in a moment like this, is the cornerstone of who we are as a company,” Ted Lerman said.

Face Shield Manufacturing
Caster Concepts, Albion, Mich., typically supports the defense, aerospace and transportation manufacturing industries. But during the coronavirus pandemic, the company has turned to producing face shields for hospitals and other workers on the front line.

The company has partnered with Technique Inc., a metal fabricator based in Jackson, Mich. The venture is producing up to 5,000 face shields daily.

“These supplies are going to the true heroes in this story: our healthcare professionals who are caring for people around the clock. We want to make sure they’re well-equipped to do their job and be safe while they’re doing it,” said Caster Concepts CEO Bill Dobbins. 

Caster Concepts continues to produce its renowned line of ergonomic casters, wheels and tread, ensuring the nation’s supply chain of essential materials remains functioning. Only essential staff members remain at the plant in Albion, and all efforts are taken to ensure their safety, executives said.

The company has instituted a strict cleaning protocol, sanitizing and cleaning commonly used areas by spraying working surfaces three times a day with a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol solution.

“Safety plays a significant role in everything we do, including the safety and protection of our employees, and by extension, our customers. We have taken preventive and proactive measures at our headquarters to protect employee health,” Dobbins said.

Another company that has transitioned to face shield manufacturing is Flow Waterjet, Kent, Wash. The shields are being produced for all frontline medical workers and first responders.

The company has made shield manufacturing specifications available to all its customers and other waterjet operators to help increase production during the period of high demand.

To place a face shield order for your facility, donate to the cause, or download materials to make your own, visit


Crowdsourcing Metal Nose Strips
Members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation workers are teaming with union contractors to produce and donate metal nose strips for the millions of masks being made by volunteer groups across the country.

The thin and flexible metal strips are critical to custom-fitting the top of a mask to a user’s face, making them more effective, less likely to slip off and more comfortable to wear.

In late March, the Hillery Company, a custom metal fabrication shop located in Groton, Conn., began posting messages on its Facebook page announcing the company would donate the nose strips to anyone looking to make masks.

“Hillery was asked by a local nurse to make the aluminum strips used on N95 masks so they could sew them in the cotton masks being made by volunteers around the country,” said Hillery employee and SMART Local 40 member Joe de la Cruz in a message posted to the company’s Facebook page.  

Since then, the company has mailed out more than 500 packages containing more than 40,000 metal nose strips.

With more than 3,000 requests totaling more than 300,000 nose pieces since March 24, requests quickly outstripped the company’s capacity to fulfill and ship all the orders. De la Cruz reached out to leadership of his union for help. The response was immediate – union locals and union sheet metal contractors from around the country were eager to join the effort and effectively begin crowd-sourcing mass production of the small metal pieces.

SMART created an online request form and began publicizing it on social media on April 7. Within hours, the union had over 100 requests totaling more than 15,000 metal strips from volunteers making donated face masks from Alaska to Florida.