Many plastics processors have retooled their production in the pandemic, like Maryland Thermoform Corp., which switched to making face shields, intubation boxes for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and sneeze guards for retail stores at its Baltimore factory.
That's a positive example of how factories have switched their production to try to both survive the pandemic's economic shock and address an unprecedented global health challenge.
But with the country still struggling with getting enough personal protective equipment, a government agency in Washington is taking a detailed look at how manufacturing supply chains should be strengthened in the wake of the coronavirus.
The U.S. International Trade Commission held hearings Sept. 23-24 to gather information on that question, including looking at reshoring and efforts to boost domestic manufacturing of medical device production.
Scott Paul, head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, offered Baltimore-based Maryland Thermoform as an example in his testimony about how companies have reworked their factories, largely without government direction.
"There are thousands of manufacturers who have in some way pivoted to making essential goods, ranging from relationships that local hospitals develop with plastics manufacturers to (make) face shields … to more sophisticated efforts looking at testing kit capacity," Paul said.
But he argued that beyond such individual company efforts, what's needed is a more muscular policy effort in Washington.
"At the crux of it, I think it's an underdeveloped industrial policy," he said. "If our policy makers are looking at ways to respond to this, they need to look at that lack of an industrial policy."
There was a lot of consensus at the hearing around the need to strengthen domestic supply chains, particularly for PPE. But there was less of a consensus on the best ways to do that.