NEWMARKET, Ontario—AirBoss of America Corp. has moved to the front lines in the battle against the coronavirus.
The company's AirBoss Defense Group received a contract March 31 from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency for the manufacture of 100,000 FlexAir Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) systems, 600,000 filters and other related accessories.
A compact, lightweight system with an onboard lithium-ion battery installed in a waist-mounted blower unit, the FlexAir PAPR system uses two high-efficiency particle filters simultaneously, providing protection against particulates, aerosols and biohazards and offering defense against viruses like COVID-19, the company said.
Wearers of the system are protected by having contaminated air purified by filtration media mounted on a PAPR blower unit and delivered via a lightweight breathing hose to the user's head cover, the firm said.
"This is really an unprecedented situation," said Chris Bitsakakis, president and COO of AirBoss Defense Group. "We're doing everything we can to help. The (coronavirus) spread puts us in the middle of ground zero, but we'll make this happen to save lives. We won't spare any expense and all the best people in our organization are involved."
According to Bitsakakis, the contract is expected to be worth about $96.4 million and represents the single largest order received to date by the Airboss Defense Group.
A majority of the order is to be rapidly produced, with initial deliveries beginning in the second quarter. The plan is to fill much of the contract within a 13-week period, he added.
When the company was in discussions with FEMA and White House officials on production of the respirator systems, before a contract was drawn up, "we shipped out the 50 units we had on our shelves," Bitsakakis said. "We gave them everything we had because we knew they needed them."
He said the respirator systems are being manufactured at the firm's Landover, Md., plant. Production started out at a low volume initially as Newmarket-based AirBoss got its supply chain going, he said. Volume is expected to rapidly build from there.
As AirBoss' automotive goods production has slowed at its Auburn Hills, Mich., plant, "this will eclipse the loss," Bitsakakis said. "We had already started to transfer our rubber molded boot production (from its Acton Vale, Quebec, facility) to Auburn Hills, and all boot production will be handled there. All gloves will continue to be made in Acton Vale. Volume will be high because of the situation we're in."
Gren Schoch, chairman and CEO of AirBoss, said the company makes all sorts of protective products, and is receiving orders every day.
"But we generally don't announce the smaller ones. We've sold more of our portable isolation chambers in the last three weeks than we did all of last year. Most of the orders we're receiving are for personal protection products.
"I actually got a letter thanking us from the White House," Schoch said. "And we certainly appreciate that."
Bitsakakis said AirBoss continues to see interest in certain protective products in its portfolio, and is receiving higher than normal order flows in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said he expects to receive more contracts in the near future.
AirBoss Defense Group and its predecessor companies have been designing and manufacturing PAPRs singe 1985, with sales to all major branches of the U.S. military.
ADG's emergency response and protective equipment also is used by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Strategic Medical Preparedness, FEMA and Centers for Disease Control infectious disease treatment centers, the company said.
In addition, ADG has provided protective equipment to emergency medical response teams and hospitals in more than 1,500 U.S. cities, as well as more than 30 countries.
Bitsakakis said ADG was formed "to establish a vertically integrated survivability solutions platform with the scale, capabilities and expertise to address challenging situations like this one. Our suite of critical survivability solutions is helping to save lives by supporting patients, first responders, medical professionals and the general public in the intensifying fight against this pandemic."
Over the last month the company has worked closely with those in its supply chain to ensure supplies of key components and materials continues, in addition to reviewing the firm's manufacturing capabilities at all its facilities, he said. He said the review is intended to solidify AirBoss' ability to meet the anticipated growth in demand for its wide range of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective products.
"This is a war," Schoch said. "It's just a war of a different kind."