A Hagerstown-area company shifted from its normal business recently to help with a rush order of more than 100,000 units of personal protective equipment.
DVF Corp. used a grant from the state and aid from two other companies to tackle the work. The effort helped DVF through the COVID-19 economic slowdown, created a few jobs and opened possibilities for more work.
“It was quite an adventure for us,” DVF President Jay Wolfe said.
To hear about that adventure and what the company did with the $30,000 grant, Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz visited the company Friday morning. She was accompanied by Heather Gramm, the department’s senior director of strategic industries and entrepreneurship, and Andrew Sargent, the department’s senior business development representative for Western Maryland.
It started a few months ago, Wolfe told the trio. The company had contracts, but a large wave of work dried up when a manufacturing plant shut down temporarily because of COVID-19.
“We were very concerned about that, obviously,” he said.
Wolfe then got a call from AirBoss Defense, a company that designs, develops and makes equipment to protect military personnel and first-responders.
DVF had done work for AirBoss “in fits and spurts” dating to 9/11, he said. Now, AirBoss needed parts for a lightweight air-purifying system.
“You can wear it all day long and be comfortable,” Wolfe said.
The unit includes a fan worn on a belt that pumps filtered air into a hood. DVF helped prepare the fan housing and connections.
“FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) gave them an order for 100,000 units, and they wanted them in 13 weeks. … It was an absolutely crash program. We put on a second shift,” Wolfe said.
DVF has nine full-time and two temporary workers, he said. During the height of the project, that roster grew by six temporary positions.
The company, which usually works with metals, used the state grant for equipment. DVF acquired five machines, basically computer-controlled cutting devices, that are better suited for working with plastics.
DVF also reached out to two local companies — Custom Machine and Beachley Furniture Co. Inc. — to help with the project, which ran from late April to July.
“The project has been good for us. … We have learned a great deal,” Wolfe said.
The pace has slowed, but the work hasn’t stopped. Wolfe said the federal Department of Health and Human Services has an order for about 25,000 air purifiers.
In an interview after the state officials’ visit, Wolfe said the investment in machines could continue to reap rewards after the air purifier orders are filled.
“We will continue to use some of the machines to do light manufacturing and plastics,” he said.
“They’re ideally suited for machining plastics. … I think it’s opened up potential for adding future work that we traditionally didn’t go after.”
After the meeting in the conference room, Wolfe led Schulz, Gramm and Sargent on a tour of the facility. When the group returned to the conference room, the state officials asked Wolfe about other challenges businesses face because of the pandemic.
Wolfe said DVF has been fortunate.
“None of us have been worried about our livelihood,” he said.
He contrasted his company’s situation with other businesses, such as restaurants, that have been hit had by the slowdown.
Schulz said the hospitality industry probably will be the last sector to recover.
“We’re seeing that all over the state and the country,” she said.
Wolfe also said child care “really is a big issue” for many.