The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

Publication gives Alabama high marks for business climate, workforce training

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama received high rankings for its workforce development programs and auto manufacturing strength in a new report from Business Facilities magazine, which also picked Birmingham and Huntsville as top cities for business climate.

In the 16th installment of its Annual State and Metro Rankings Report, Business Facilities rated Birmingham as the No. 1 mid-size metro area for its business climate, while Huntsville was No. 1 among small-size metros. Overall, Alabama ranked No. 4 for business climate.

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Alabama’s workforce development and talent attraction programs ranked No. 2 among the states in the ranking, while Business Facilities rated Alabama’s automotive manufacturing strength No. 5.

“Alabama’s economic development team will continue to work tirelessly to recruit high-caliber companies, and this ranking is another testament to the advantages that our state possesses for businesses across the globe,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“One of those key advantages is our workforce training programs, which are a key component of the support system we have in place in Alabama to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success,” he added.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is a central player in Alabama’s strategic economic growth efforts, having worked with 5,200 companies and training nearly 1 million workers since its founding in 1971. Last year, AIDT’s economic impact on Alabama was calculated at $7 billion.

“Any success we have in Alabama regarding workforce development and talent attraction is due to a myriad of things,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and head of Commerce’s Workforce Development Division.

“This includes an available workforce with an extraordinary work ethic, world-class companies that choose Alabama and hire our citizens, a business-focused Governor and Legislature who are totally engaged in our workforce strategies, and a Secretary of Commerce who helped create the Accelerate Alabama strategy that is the foundation of all our work.”

Castile added: “The AIDT staff is among the best in the business of both workforce development and talent attraction, and I commend them and many others involved in this work for this recognition. We are very proud to be part of the ‘Made in Alabama’ and the ‘AlabamaWorks’ team.”

Alabama’s auto industry is poised for growth as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing completes its new assembly plant in Huntsville, and Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz move forward with major expansions in the state.

GROWTH PROJECTS

Other Business Facilities rankings for Alabama included:

No. 6 – Foreign Trade Zone activity (exports)

No. 7 – Manufacturing Output (percentage of GDP)

No. 10 – Birmingham/Hoover (GDP leaders, mid-size MSAs)

Both the Birmingham and Huntsville areas have recorded high levels of economic development activity.

Last year, Jefferson County, the heart of the Birmingham metro area, attracted $456 million in new capital investment, along with more than 1,100 jobs, according to Commerce’s 2019 New & Expanding Industry Report.

Major projects included the recruitment of a Carvana automobile distribution center in Bessemer with a projected 450 jobs and a $215 million expansion at a U.S. Steel facility, adding 150 jobs.

Madison and Limestone counties, comprising the Huntsville metro area, landed projects valued at nearly $2 billion in 2019, with more than 3,500 job commitments.

Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Toyota announced growth projects in the Huntsville region last year, as did several suppliers to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 weeks ago

Southern Research’s screening center searches for clues to COVID-19 treatments

(Southern Research/Twitter)

Inside a high-tech laboratory at Southern Research, a team led by Robert Bostwick, Ph.D., is screening vast numbers of compound samples to identify agents that could become a new treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Bostwick is director of Southern Research’s state-of-the-art High-Throughput Screening (HTS) Center, which features advanced robotic equipment and a collection of around 750,000 compounds for rapid, accurate testing.

Since 2006, the HTS Center has screened an average of 3.3 million compounds each year in biochemical, bacterial, cell-based, and antiviral assays. The center’s scientists have been working on coronaviruses for the past six years.

Since the pandemic began earlier this year, Bostwick’s team has screened compound samples for pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and key government agencies. It’s also screened FDA-approved drugs to see if they show potential activity against the pathogen.

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Bostwick, who joined the Birmingham-based research organization in 2013 after working for AstraZeneca and other bioscience companies, talks about the capabilities of the HTS Center and how his team is making a contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

What is the goal of Southern Research’s screening program as it relates to the novel coronavirus?

The goal is to discover drugs that can be used as therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. By screening compounds in our HTS Center, we can rapidly identify those that exhibit antiviral effects against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.

These compounds can then be used as starting points for the development of new therapeutic agents.

If the screen identifies compounds that are already approved as drugs to treat various other diseases, they can potentially be repurposed for treating COVD-19.

What are Southern Research’s key capabilities in screening compounds as part of the drug discovery process?

Using automated robotic systems to perform testing is a key capability to enable high throughput screening. Southern Research’s HTS Center can also conduct screens that require containment of highly infectious agents and is internationally known for its infectious disease capabilities.

The HTS Center has screened over 15 million compound samples in over 50 different infectious disease assays. It currently serves as the screening core for the NIH-funded Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), based at UAB, our close collaborator on many projects.

 Describe the scope of Southern Research’s activities in screening compounds against COVID-19.

For the past six years we have been conducting a drug discovery effort for coronaviruses through the AD3C and have expanded that effort to include SARS-CoV-2.

In addition, we are providing screening services to several major pharmaceutical companies, over two dozen biotech companies, the Gates Foundation and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which is part of the NIH.

Since early April, we have been generating over 30,000 data points weekly in screens to identify compounds with antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2.

How many compounds has Southern Research screened as part of its internal COVID-19 research program?

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, we had already screened over 305,000 compounds against SARS in support of the AD3C coronavirus drug discovery project. After the outbreak, we tested the hits from that campaign against SARS-CoV-2 and identified several compounds with antiviral effects against both viruses. We are making and testing dozens of new compounds for that program every month.

We also screened a collection containing FDA-approved drugs and late-stage clinical candidates against SARS-CoV-2 to identify drugs with potential for repurposing.

Why is ‘drug repurposing’ a smart approach in this pandemic?

It takes years to invent and bring a new drug to market. Since the safety profile of marketed drugs is already known, a drug need only be evaluated in clinical studies to determine if it can effectively treat a disease other than the one for which it is marketed.

Therefore, in a pandemic, it is much quicker to repurpose existing drugs for use in combating the pathogen as opposed to inventing an entirely new drug.

(Courtesy of Southern Research)

4 weeks ago

Pinnacle Renewable Energy plans $95 million wood pellet plant in Alabama

(Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc./Contributed)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Governor Kay Ivey today announced that Alabama Pellets LLC, a subsidiary of Canada-based Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc., plans to invest $95 million to construct a wood pellet production facility in Demopolis.

The Alabama Pellets facility is expected to have an annual production volume of 360,000 metric tons and will start initial industrial wood pellet production by mid-2021. The company has set an initial target of hiring at least 45 workers.

“We welcome the growth plans of Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets in our state,” Governor Ivey said. “My administration has made it a priority to develop rural Alabama and this manufacturing facility under construction in Demopolis will have a significant economic impact on Marengo County and create meaningful new opportunities for many citizens there.”

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Pinnacle has signed an agreement with the State of Alabama that provides Alabama Pellets with incentives for job creation and investment under Alabama’s Job Act Incentives program.

Pinnacle holds a 70 percent stake in Alabama Pellets, with Tuscaloosa-based Westervelt Co. and Demopolis-based Two Rivers Lumber Co. LLC holding 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

“Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets have been part of the Alabama business landscape since October 2018 and are proud to be part of the economic growth of this community,” Pinnacle CEO Rob McCurdy said.

“Part of our commitment as a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate is to think local, hire local, and use local vendors and contractors.”

‘POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT’

Incentives for Alabama Pellets include a tax credit for job creation totaling $848,000 over 10 years, as well as an investment credit totaling $9.5 million, also spread over 10 years, according to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The Alabama Job Act incentives supports our approach to doing business, and we are pleased to be part of the state’s ‘Made in Alabama’ program,” McCurdy said.

The incentives are offered to businesses that provide benefit to the state and its citizens through positive economic impacts in the community and tax revenue to the state. In order to receive the wage incentive, Alabama Pellets’ facility will target employing a minimum of 45 employees who earn an average hourly wage of $20.

“We’re committed to helping create jobs in our state’s rural areas through strategic economic development, and the plans by Pinnacle and Alabama Pellets to locate a facility in Demopolis is a positive development for Marengo County,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Alabama Pellets is making a major investment in this plant, which will drive economic growth in the region and spark the creation of direct and indirect jobs.”

PINNACLE RENEWABLE

Vancouver-based Pinnacle is the world’s third largest manufacturer and distributor of industrial wood pellets, a sustainable fuel for renewable electricity generation. This fuel is used by large-scale thermal power generators as a greener alternative to produce reliable baseload renewable power.

The company operates eight industrial wood pellet production facilities in western Canada and one in Alabama, with two additional facilities under construction in Alberta and Alabama. It also owns a port terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Pinnacle has entered into long-term take-or-pay contracts with utilities in the U.K., Europe and Asia that represent an average of 99 percent of its production capacity through 2026.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Revere Plastics Systems expands footprint to Alabama, creating 120 jobs

(Revere/Contributed)

AUBURN, Alabama — Revere Plastics Systems, a leading manufacturer of highly engineered plastic injection molded parts and assemblies, has selected Auburn to house its first operation in the Southeast.

Revere will employ 120 people at its Alabama plant over the next three years.

“Revere is thrilled with the location and growth opportunity that our Auburn facility offers,” said Glen Fish, CEO of Revere. “The active transfer of new business in our first weeks of operation is already encouraging, and we are proud of the exceptional team in place that significantly advances Revere’s expansion plan.”

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Revere Plastics Systems is headquartered in Novi, Michigan, and has over 50 years of experience in plastics and manufacturing. Revere’s leadership and technical expertise has earned the company a ranking as one of the nation’s top 50 plastic injection molders in sales.

“With the opening of its first plant in the Southeast, Revere joins Alabama’s great family of industries that have proven to be not only leaders in their field, but also great community partners,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“We look forward to building a durable partnership with Revere and helping them to grow in Sweet Home Alabama.”

GROWING FOOTPRINT

The addition of its Auburn operation will increase the company’s footprint to seven North American locations. Their location in Auburn will allow the company to grow its presence in the automotive, outdoor power equipment, medical, HVAC and other end-markets.

“We are pleased to welcome Revere Plastics Systems into Auburn’s industrial family,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “Their timing couldn’t be better for our community as this technology-based, value-added company prepares to provide jobs locally.”

Revere Plastics Systems will operate at 204 Enterprise Drive in the Auburn Technology Park North. Formerly under the names Weidmann and Techniplas, the facility has been used since 2004 as an injection molding operation.

“We look forward to growing new customers, localizing existing Revere business, and attracting some of Auburn’s prior business to the facility,” said CEO Fish.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Innovation Fund joins Auburn to support development of OraSecure saliva collection device for COVID testing

(Pixabay, YHN)

AUBURN, Alabama — The Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn’s Industrial Development Board have teamed to award $250,000 in funding to accelerate the development of OraSecure LLC’s breakthrough patent-pending saliva collection device intended to help in the ongoing battle against the novel coronavirus.

The support will help OraSecure finalize the initial manufacturing run needed to begin mass producing its devices and complete validation with the FDA. This funding comes at a key time in the development of this product and should allow the OraSecure device to begin rapidly assisting the nation during the fight against COVID-19.

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The Alabama Innovation Fund, administered by Commerce, will provide $200,000 in funding, while the City of Auburn is providing $50,000 for OraSecure’s pilot program.

“The Alabama Innovation Fund is a key component in our efforts to spark the creation of high-impact ’Made in Alabama’ products by stimulating breakthrough research,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“With this support, we are helping OraSecure speed the development of a specimen collection device that can make a difference in the pandemic response while simultaneously raising the state’s profile in the bioscience industry.”

SAFER TESTING

The OraSecure device is designed to facilitate a safer, more comfortable, and less wasteful collection process for those seeking COVID-19 testing.

OraSecure was designed by five experts in the clinical and forensic testing industries with initial funding and support provided by Omega Laboratories Inc., a leading forensic drug testing laboratory with over 20 years of industry experience.

Under Omega Laboratories’ leadership, OraSecure LLC was spun-off as its own entity with the support of the City of Auburn and the State of Alabama. Initial operations will be based in Auburn.

OraSecure plans to offer the collection device as quickly as possible.

“It’s great to see innovative products being manufactured here in Auburn that will aid in public health efforts and the fight against COVID-19,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders. “OraSecure is a perfect example of the types of new technologies that we work to foster in our local businesses.”

CAPABILITIES

OraSecure said the city and people of Auburn feature a remarkable combination of expertise in bio-tech manufacturing, as well as the skills, resources, and capabilities needed for it to begin rapidly progressing through the prototyping and manufacturing process.

As the development and manufacturing of OraSecure progresses, Omega’s development team and distribution network will be key in the commercialization of OraSecure product.

The OraSecure collection device is especially attractive to laboratories because of its unique vacuum tube configurability. OraSecure can be configured in single and dual-tube collection options, and these vacuum tubes can be filled with a variety of different buffers.

OraSecure can be customized with a variety of vacuum type specimen tubes for automated testing and can provide a true split-specimen for laboratories interested in performing both active virus and antibody testing from a single collection.

Unlike the current nasal swab collections, OraSecure is patient driven, with patients depositing their saliva or sputum directly into the device. The secured tubes can be safely transported to the laboratory and be placed directly on automated equipment. This means that OraSecure greatly reduces the exposure risk to collectors and laboratory personnel.

Headquartered in Mogadore, Ohio, Omega Laboratories is a global leader in specialty drug testing, rapid alcohol testing, software solutions for clinical and forensic operations, and laboratory licensing. For more information on OraSecure, please visit www.orasecure.com.

INNOVATION FUND

The Alabama Innovation Fund was created as part of the Accelerate Alabama strategic plan in 2012 to help provide financial support for research and innovation-based commercialization taking place in the state.

Projects are selected for funding based on factors such as job-creation potential, the likelihood of successful commercialization and additional research possibilities. The program is administered by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Milestones bring Toyota Alabama closer to increased engine production

(Toyota Alabama/Contributed)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Toyota Alabama announced today that it achieved two significant milestones this month as part of an ongoing expansion, a $288 million project originally announced in March 2019.

The milestones include the start of production for the all-new, redesigned 4-cylinder engine at the Huntsville facility, and the closing in of the plant’s new 150,000-square-foot V6 engine assembly line.

“These milestones represent significant achievements and further demonstrate Toyota’s long-term commitment to build where we sell,” said Dave Finch, Toyota Alabama president.

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“By boosting production capacity and flexibility, our dedicated work force can better serve customers and position our operations for stability and future success,” he added.

EXPANSION NO. 5

Upon the expansion is complete in 2021, the plant will add 450 new jobs. Toyota’s investment at the Alabama facility will climb to a total of $1.2 billion investment, solidifies the Huntsville plant as the automaker’s largest engine production center in North America.

Toyota Alabama supplies engines for one-third of all Toyota vehicles assembled in the U.S.

The latest expansion is the plant’s fifth since it began engine production in 2003. Annual engine capacity will increase 34 percent to 900,000, while total employment at the facility will top 1,800.

“Toyota has long been a pillar in our booming automotive industry, with its Huntsville engine plant operating in near-constant expansion mode since it launched production,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Over the years, we have developed a special relationship with this world-class automaker and, working together, we will build a brilliant future right here in Alabama,” he added.

MAZDA JOINT VENTURE

Meanwhile, Toyota is teaming with Mazda to build a $1.6 billion joint venture assembly plant just miles away in another location in Huntsville. Production, split evenly between the partners, is expected to begin in 2021.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, as the venture is known, will employ 4,000 workers at full production.

The Alabama Department of Commerce and AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, have joined area governments and organizations to support the project, which was announced in January 2018.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 month ago

Alabama Office of Apprenticeship plans for growth with fresh funding

(AOA/Contributed)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Alabama’s apprenticeship effort is primed for additional growth after the U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday awarded the state a $450,000 grant to expand registered apprenticeship programs.

The funding will allow the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to enhance its activities in working with employers to develop skilled workers in many industries across the state, according to Josh Laney, the AOA’s director.

Laney said the grant will help the agency provide resources for employers on how to run high-performance apprenticeship programs and allow it to develop mentor programs so skilled workers can pass on their knowledge to the next generation. The grant will also help AOA collect useful data to improve its efforts.

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“The top line metric of performance for the AOA is how well employers are served. The AOA will use the resources provided by this grant to expand our regional presence by locating project managers in the areas closest to the employers they serve,” Laney said.

“Even in times of COVID and social distance, proximity to the clients and a deep integration with the workforce entities in an area allow relationships to be built and joint efforts to flourish,” he added.

FUELING GROWTH

The funding arrives at a time for growth for Alabama’s apprenticeship effort, which has been expanding into new industries as part of the COVID-19 recovery. In June 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded Alabama a $1.3 million, three-year grant to support the expansion of apprenticeship efforts among members of difficult-to-serve special populations.

The new funding comes through the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Building State Capacity to Expand Apprenticeship through Innovation” program.

“We are extremely proud of the work our apprenticeship staff are doing as they work tirelessly to stand up our state apprenticeship agency, the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship,” said Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and head of its Workforce Development Division.

“Receiving this grant at this moment in time is extraordinarily important to the work and will help expedite the development of our Alabama program,” added Castile, who also serves as director of AIDT.

At AOA, Laney teams with industries and education providers across the state to develop and expand traditional and industry-recognized apprenticeships for youth and adults.

He also leads the AOA’s support of larger workforce development infrastructure for Alabama to identify and promote the recognition and use of valuable credentials.

“The AOA is very pleased to be able to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Labor for the expansion of apprenticeship in Alabama,” he said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

2 months ago

Cullman’s JELCO adds new dimension with health care PPE production

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

CULLMAN, Alabama – JELCO, a Cullman manufacturer that typically produces fall-protection gear for utility workers, is expanding its workforce and adding equipment as it ventures into a new product line – personal protective equipment for health care workers.

Philip Clemmons, president and CEO of JELCO, said the move stems from his desire to make a positive contribution during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when hospitals and health care workers were scrambling to locate PPE.

“Back in March, we looked around and said, ‘What can we do to help with COVID-19?’ We knew how to sew, and I had capable people,” he said. “I could also buy more sewing machines and hire more people. I talked to a few of my friends who are doctors, and that’s how we got into PPE.”

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JELCO initially began producing washable face masks based on local demand. It quickly shifted the new production endeavor to include hospital gowns, after discussions with Cullman Regional Medical Center, which placed an order for 3,000 gowns.

“We have been shipping hospital gowns across the country, to small clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes and everything in between.”

Clemmons said his company has invested more than $100,000 to install new sewing machines at the Cullman facility, where it also added an automated fabric-cutting machine to speed up production.

The plant, which opened in 2019, had only a handful of employees in March. Today, employment is approaching 25, and Clemmons said he believes new hiring can be sustained.

“Cullman is very lucky to be surrounded by companies that have stepped up to face this pandemic and produce the products that protect our citizens and the medical professionals that are on the front lines fighting this virus,” said Dale Greer, director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency.

“JELCO has risen to the occasion providing critical medical and civilian PPE in a time when PPE shortages are common. Alabama’s medical workers, their patients, and our citizens are safer because of JELCO’s efforts,” he added.

LONG-TERM POTENTIAL

For JELCO, the move into health care PPE represented a natural evolution. The company produces fall protection equipment for at-heights workers such as harnesses, lanyards, pole straps and rescue equipment. Its chief customers are utilities and telecommunications companies.

Besides the location in Cullman, JELCO also has a plant in Montréal, where it was founded in 1892 as the J.E. Lortie Co. Clemmons’ family acquired the company in 1998, and he has served as CEO since 2008.

Besides hospital gowns, JELCO has also begun producing flame-resistant face masks using specialized Nomex materials that it has sold to utility companies across Canada and the United States.

Clemmons said he believes his company’s move into health care PPE has long-term potential in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are still a lot of companies that are importing their PPE from China and India, but what we have is something that is made right here in Alabama, here in America. I think a lot of people would rather have something made here than made in China,” he said.

JELCO’s ability to produce health care PPE in Cullman has grown rapidly since it began producing the first hospital gowns for the local hospital.

“Early on, we didn’t have the kind of sewing machines for large-scale production of masks and gowns. Now, we have bought more sewing machines and additional support equipment and we’ve hired more people,” Clemmons said.

“We’ve got it down where we can produce large quantities of gowns and masks each day while still maintaining our production capabilities on our core products.”

Adding a CNC fabric cutter accelerated JELCO’s production capabilities at the Cullman location.

“If we were going to be able to put product out quickly, we saw the need to upgrade and instead of using manual fabric cutters, we wanted to automate the process,” Clemmons said. “We can program it exactly as we need and minimize wastage.”

Greer at the Cullman EDA said JELCO’s growth is delivering an extra dimension.

“Of course, as economic development professionals we are excited about new jobs and new capital investment, but this project means more,” Greer said. “This is a company being a great corporate citizen and contributing to a better, safer tomorrow.”

PPE PRODUCTION

JELCO is the second Cullman company to see long-term potential in PPE production as the need for domestic suppliers of critical protective gear becomes recognized as a national priority because of critical shortages triggered by the pandemic.

Earlier this year, HomTex Inc., a producer of bed linens and similar items, quickly pivoted to make washable, reusable cotton face masks, keeping its workforce engaged as it rapidly turned out more than 1 million of the masks.

HomTex is now investing more than $5 million and hiring 120 workers to become a permanent supplier of pleated 3-ply surgical masks for health care workers.

The Alabama Department of Commerce, under the leadership of Secretary Greg Canfield, has identified the production of PPE, medical supplies and equipment, and pharmaceuticals as a new strategic target for the state’s economic development efforts.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Southern Research intensifying therapeutic efforts to combat COVID-19

(Southern Research/Contributed, YHN)

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Research has accelerated its drug discovery and development activities to identify and test vaccines and therapeutics against coronavirus that could save lives and help restore the nation’s hard-hit economy.

A key figure in this effort is Mark J. Suto, Ph.D., vice president of the Drug Discovery division and interim vice president of the Drug Development division at Southern Research.

Suto, who has made wide-ranging contributions to pharmaceutical research and drug discovery efforts during a 35-plus year career, has worked in large pharmaceutical companies, as well as smaller biotech and venture-backed firms.

Since joining Southern Research in 2011, Suto has engaged in multiple research collaborations spanning a diverse range of diseases and therapeutic areas, including rare and neglected diseases.

In a question-and-answer format, Suto discusses Southern Research’s multi-pronged effort to fight COVID-19, the virus causing the serious, sometimes fatal respiratory illness.

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What is Southern Research doing to develop new therapies and vaccines against COVID-19?

 As part of our long history with the identification of new medicines to treat life-threatening diseases such as cancer and HIV, we have channeled our resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, we are collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to identify new research tools and vaccines. We recently announced a collaboration with Tonix, a biopharmaceutical firm, to test its vaccine candidate.

As part of a large consortium funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) involving our partnering institution, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), we are building upon our ongoing research on highly pathogenic coronaviruses to develop new therapies. We are also working in partnership with UAB to test compounds for antiviral activity against COVID-19.​

How did Southern Research begin its work?

 From the onset of the COVID-19 threat, Southern Research quickly worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government agencies to obtain the virus for experimental testing. Due to the nature of the virus (i.e., ability to rapidly spread and cause infection), handling requires highly specialized facilities available at Southern Research. After having obtained the virus, intense research has been initiated and is ongoing which aims to identify effective therapies.

Has Southern Research activated an internal COVID-19 program?

 In addition to these activities, we established an internal research program to identify known drugs that will be effective against this new threat. In the case of combating COVID-19, speed is of the essence given wide-reaching consequences. It is well known that the development of new drugs is a costly endeavor and requires years of research. Southern Research has taken a non-traditional approach of drug discovery which could result in the identification of new therapies in a period of months rather than years.

What is Southern Research’s strategy in searching for new therapies?

 Our approach, referred to as ‘drug repurposing’, consists of developing a rapid method or screen to determine whether there are already FDA-approved drugs that would be effective against COVID-19. We’ve tested more than 3,500 drugs and have identified 12 which are highly active against the virus. An interesting fact is that those that have been identified were all originally developed not as antivirals but rather for a wide range of medical conditions.

What are the next steps in this process?

 Next, we need to further evaluate these drugs under several various conditions to identify those with clinical promise. Also, since all of these compounds are approved for use in people, clinical trials could be initiated very quickly.

Support Southern Research’s work against COVID-19. Donate today.

(Courtesy of Southern Research)

3 months ago

5 ways Alabama is making a difference in the battle against COVID-19

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

The coronavirus crisis has brought unimagined challenges, but businesses across Alabama have answered the call to help health care workers and their communities through these difficult times.

Alabama businesses, from large-scale manufacturers to small family-owned enterprises, have shown a willingness to go the extra mile to provide assistance during this unprecedented public health emergency.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to emerge, clothing designers, textile manufacturers, distilleries and a host of other small businesses across the state quickly transitioned their daily operations to produce protective gear, medical equipment and hand sanitizer.

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Large employers also got into the act. One example: Hyundai Alabama coordinated the delivery of 10,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea to expand testing in the Montgomery region.

“Alabama’s business community and the state’s people have shown an incredible resilience during this crisis,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“These efforts really speak to the core of the Alabama spirit and will help us get moving forward on the road to recovery.”

Here are five ways that businesses and organizations in Alabama have made important contributions to the pandemic fight.

No. 1: INGENIOUS SOLUTIONS

Auburn University engineers developed a method to convert ordinary CPAP machines into emergency ventilators that could help patients stricken by the serious respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.

The device — called RE-InVENT – can be assembled in four hours using about $700 worth of parts in addition to a standard CPAP machine, compared to the typical hospital ventilator price tag of $25,000 and up.

“What started as pure intellectual curiosity quickly grew into an emotional race against time to potentially save lives,” said Michael Zabala, a faculty member in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and one of the project’s drivers.

The Alabama Productivity Center at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business has been involved in the fight, along with partners at Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center and UAB’s School of Engineering.

An impromptu effort to produce protective face shields using 3-D printers quickly grew into a network that included individuals, three local high schools and companies including Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama plant.

The network has now produced thousands of face shields for health care facilities and first responders in central and west Alabama.

“This is a no-fee project for us, but it is probably one of the most impactful we will do this year,” said Alan Hill, the APC’s executive director.

No. 2: PIVOTING PRODUCTION

Across Alabama, many businesses are finding ways to make a difference. A partnership between Birmingham wedding dress designer Heidi Elnora and Moulton’s Red Land Cotton produced face masks. In late March, Huntsville’s Yellowhammer Brewing converted its entire production line to hand sanitizer.

Cullman-based HomTex Inc. began producing reusable cotton face masks after orders for its traditional bed linens declined, turning out more than 1 million masks in short order.

With support from the Alabama Department of Commerce and others, the family firm now plans to invest $5 million to become a full-time domestic supplier of medical-grade surgical masks. (Read a story about its plans.)

“We are going to make hundreds of millions of these surgical masks,” HomTex President Jeremy Wootten said.  “The production capacity will be about 350 million of these annually.”

In Mobile, Calagaz Printing, which normally produces menus and other items for restaurants, shifted its line to produce protective face shields, ultimately making more than 150,000 of them.

“It’s been great for our employees, for them to hold their head high as they make an impact in these times, and also be able to have work to do,” said Calagaz’s Michael Cuesta.

No. 3: CONTRIBUTING BRAINPOWER

The state’s research institutions and universities were quick to join the effort against COVID-19, demonstrating their impressive capabilities.

Birmingham’s Southern Research is working with a New York biopharmaceutical firm to test a potential coronavirus vaccine and is collaborating with several pharmaceutical companies to develop new research tools.

In addition, Southern Research launched an internal program to identify drugs that are already FDA-approved that could be effective against COVID-19, repurposing them so they can be quickly incorporated into treatments.

Scientists at UAB, meanwhile, are active on many fronts.

UAB teamed with biopharmaceutical company Altimmune for pre-clinical trials of a vaccine candidate and participated in a global trial of the investigational drug remdesivir that has received emergency approval as a treatment for the coronavirus disease.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the vital importance of UAB to Alabama and the world,” UAB President Dr. Ray L. Watts said. “We continue to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care, and education to make a big difference.”

No. 4: RETOOLING RESOURCES

As the crisis took hold, Boeing, Airbus and other major industrial employers in Alabama quickly redeployed their resources to produce personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory produced 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals. Honda Alabama’s engineers also stepped up to utilize 3-D printers to manufacture face shields for health care workers.

Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama operation launched a comprehensive relief effort featuring donations of funds, goods and services valued at more than $500,000. Along with support for the located United Way, Mercedes workers sewed N100 face masks and provided the Alabama Productivity Center with 600 face shield headbands.

Mercedes also donated 100,000 surgical masks and 7,000 N95 washable masks to the Alabama Department of Public Health, with additional PPE donations to hospitals and emergency management agencies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an incredible amount of strain on families and on the non-profits and groups trying to assist them in making ends meet,” Mercedes Alabama President Michael Goebel said.

“We are all connected, and we have to pull together to help get this community through this crisis.”

No. 5: BIOSCIENCE ADVANCES

Alabama’s bioscience startups, meanwhile, have mobilized to combat COVID-19, helping to advance urgent work that could lead to new treatments and vaccines.

This includes Birmingham-based TriAltus Bioscience LLC, which developed protein purification technology to accelerate research into a new vaccine under development in Oregon.

“It’s rewarding to know that our product can help expedite the search for a COVID-19 vaccine,” TriAltus CEO Bob Shufflebarger said.

In Huntsville, a collaboration including iRepertoire, a diagnostic technology company, is seeking to learn how the human immune system responds to the virus that causes COVID-19. Partners are Huntsville Hospital and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities,” said Dr. Jian Han of iRepertoire.

Another HudsonAlpha company, iCubate, has produced a test platform for COVID-19 that can produce results in less than six hours from sample collection.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Partnership to 3-D print face shields grows into network delivering impact

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

An impromptu mission to produce much-needed protective equipment for Alabama health care workers started with two 3-D printers in a home workshop running around the clock. It’s grown into a coordinated network of partners that includes motivated volunteers, three local high schools and companies wanting to help.

This informal partnership has produced and delivered more than 2,100 protective face shields to hospitals, urgent care facilities, dental clinics, hospice providers, police departments and fire stations across Central and West Alabama.

“There is a lot of good will out there and a lot of people who want to help out our first responders,” said Alan Hill, executive director of the Alabama Productivity Center in the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse School of Business.

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“What we have been able to do just makes you feel good – there is just no other way to say it.”

The APC teamed with Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center and the UAB School of Engineering to kick off the mission in late March.

For the APC, it began with two 3-D polymer printers redeployed to employee Jody Beck’s residence, where he worked with his wife, Sadie, to produce plastic headbands for the face shields. At first, the printers were running 24/7.

Workers at Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center (TAC) also produced headbands and laser cut plastic shields for the medical masks. UAB helped with additional 3-D printing and final assembly.

In addition to 3-D printing headbands, the project evolved when the TAC started using its cutting capabilities to cut the headbands from acrylic. This allowed the production of more than 100 headbands a day, according to Scott Bishop, the TAC’s team leader.

Also, Alabama Power’s Print Shop started cutting the shield materials to allow the team to provide the medical workers with a complete face shield. To date, the TAC has produced more than 1,000 headbands, and the Print Shop has produced over 9,200 face shields, Bishop said.

NEW PARTNERS

The initial goals were modest, but after word got out about the effort, new partners jumped on board, and the campaign began to expand.

Hill said several retirees with 3-D printers joined the effort, as did the 9-year-old daughter of an UAB professor who owned a printer. Teachers at Briarwood Christian, Hoover and Thompson high schools got permission to use their printers. An anonymous donor gave 4,500 disposable face shields.

The game changed when workers at Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama assembly plant became involved, Hill said. Initially, the 3-D printers at the automaker’s sprawling facility were deployed but soon other manufacturing capabilities were also brought to bear.

“We had been 3-D printing the headbands, but they started cutting them out of acrylic using their water jet cutters,” Hill said. “We went from making one headband every two and a half hours to making 14 every hour. That increased our output tremendously.

“I can’t say enough about the support we received from Mercedes,” he added.

MAKING AN IMPACT

Hill said other companies also lined up to help.

ALG Labels + Graphics in Birmingham and FASTSIGNS, a printing company in Tuscaloosa, both donated face shield material. Pell City’s IPAK Alabama, a packaging supplier to Honda’s Alabama plant, provided foam bands that fit on the headband.

In a related effort, the CUBE, the 3-D printing lab operating UA’s College of Engineering, produced and delivered more than 1,700 protective face shields to health care facilities in West Alabama, Hill said. (More than $18,000 has been donated to this effort through an ongoing crowdfunding campaign.)

The broad support has allowed the APC to shift its 3-D printers to a new focus – producing ear relief straps for the plastic headbands on the protective face shields, which can become uncomfortable after lengthy wearing. These “ear savers” have also been given to workers at grocery stores and dental clinics who wear masks all day, Hill said.

“When all is said and done, this is really about keeping our first responders safe. If you keep just one of those people safe, it’s worth all the effort,” he said.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the effort illustrates how the state’s education and business communities can seamlessly align to make an impact in the fight against COVID-19.

“This collaborative effort, like others across the state, is not only producing results but also revealing the Alabama can-do spirit of innovation that helps us meet the most difficult of challenges,” Secretary Canfield said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Airbus launches A220 production on new Alabama assembly line

(Airbus/Contributed)

MOBILE, Alabama — Airbus said today that it has officially launched production of A220 aircraft at its newly constructed Final Assembly Line hangar at its Alabama manufacturing facility.

Airbus also said its workforce in Mobile has begun production of the first U.S.-built A220 for U.S. airline company JetBlue.

“The team is excited to start working in their new facility and to welcome a new customer. It’s a strong endorsement from JetBlue in this challenging time,” said Paul Gaskell, president of A220 USA and Head of A220 Program in Mobile.

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Today’s announcement means the 270,000-square-foot hangar, where both A220-100 and A220-300 aircraft can be assembled, is officially open for business after an 18-month construction project.

The facility houses five primary assembly stations where major airframe component assemblies come together for a completed aircraft in a flowline process.

Airbus initially began producing A220 aircraft in Mobile in August 2019 using space in an existing A320 Final Assembly Line hangar and new support hangars. With the completion of the new Final Assembly Line hangar, the Airbus production site in Alabama has now doubled in size.

“The expansion of our commercial aircraft production in Mobile to a second product line further solidifies Airbus’ standing as a truly global aircraft manufacturer and confirms that Airbus is an important part of the American manufacturing landscape,” Gaskell said.

“This A220 assembly line will help satisfy the U.S. demand for the A220 aircraft.”

 Airbus said another milestone was reached as the first component assemblies destined to become an A220 for JetBlue arrived at the new hangar.

JetBlue will be the second customer served by the Mobile team, with its first U.S.-made A220 scheduled for delivery in the fourth quarter.

Airbus announced plans for A220 aircraft manufacturing in Mobile in October 2017.

“The opening of Airbus’ A220 Final Assembly Line in Mobile demonstrates the company’s commitment to aircraft production in the United States, and Alabama is proud to be the home of its growing U.S. manufacturing presence,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This marks another significant milestone for Airbus and its Mobile production center, and we look forward to seeing many others in the future.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Evonik opens advanced biomaterials facility in Birmingham with expansion

(Contributed/Evonik)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Evonik announced Wednesday that it has successfully commissioned an advanced biomaterials facility in Birmingham that will support global demand for the use of its RESOMER-brand bioresorbable polymers with implantable medical devices and parenteral drug products.

The expansion will also allow Germany-based Evonik to provide contract manufacturing services to customers seeking to outsource production of their own proprietary biomaterials.

“Birmingham is now a global center of excellence for the design, development and supply of biomaterials,” said John Daly, site manager at Evonik Birmingham Laboratories.

Evonik announced its growth plans in Birmingham in March 2018.

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Researchers in the Alabama city played a pioneering role in the development of time-release drug delivery systems, and Birmingham remains a hub for activities in the field through Evonik and others, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance.

EXPANDING CAPABILITIES

Evonik’s new 30,000-square-foot facility in Jefferson County is equipped with multiple cleanrooms, numerous reactors, specialized purification and micronization systems and other equipment.

Together with an adjoining facility in Birmingham, Evonik can now provide an integrated range of biomaterial services at a single U.S. site to support projects from initial feasibility through to commercial production.

The adjacent contract development and manufacturing site also offers a range of formulation development and manufacturing services for parenteral drug products, and application development and scale-up services for implantable medical devices.

“Regardless of the tightness of a customer’s product specifications or batch volume requirements, we have the technical expertise, operational flexibility, and regulatory track record to deliver the highest levels of quality and supply security,” Daly said.

Evonik said it has harmonized the equipment and processes utilized in Birmingham with its other main biomaterials facility in Darmstadt, Germany, giving pharmaceutical and medical device customers a range of dual-sourcing options.

“With the commissioning of our new state-of-the-art biomaterials facility in Birmingham, medical device and pharmaceutical customers have even more flexibility in the supply of standard or custom RESOMER bioresorbable polymers at virtually any clinical or commercial scale,” said Dr. Andreas Karau, Global Head of Biomaterials for Evonik’s Health Care business line.

The Health Care business line serves more than 1,000 pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and medical device customers worldwide.

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

3 months ago

Alabama researchers energize efforts to aid search for COVID-19 therapies

(TriAtlus/Contributed, YHN)

Alabama’s bioscience researchers and organizations have mobilized to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to advance urgent work that could lead to new treatments and vaccines.

This includes Birmingham-based TriAltus Bioscience LLC, which developed protein purification technology to support research into a new COVID-19 vaccine under development at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Institute researchers are using the TriAltus CL7/lm7 system to isolate and purify the distinctive Spike protein, or S-protein, that helps the COVID-19 virus attach to and infect human cells.

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“We’re in a race to develop this vaccine as quickly as possible, so it’s important to have technology that helps us isolate and purify the S-protein for time-critical research,” said Dr. Hong-Ming Hu, a scientist at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute at the Providence Cancer Institute.

Hu’s team is fast-tracking the development of the potential vaccine, with trials possibly beginning in May.

“It’s rewarding to know that our product can help expedite the search for a COVID-19 vaccine,” TriAltus CEO Bob Shufflebarger said.

The CL7 technology was invented by a team led by Dr. Dmitry Vassylyev, TriAltus co-founder and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

TARGETING A TREATMENT

In Huntsville, a collaboration aims to learn how the human immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, with hopes for developing an effective treatment for the disease.

Teaming in the effort are Huntsville Hospital, the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and iRepetroire, a diagnostic technology company located on the HudsonAlpha campus.

“The most effective way to stop pandemics is with vaccines,” said Dr. Rick Myers, president and scientific director for HudsonAlpha. “However, the pipeline for vaccine production from development, to testing, to market can take years. A COVID-19 treatment is the best way to bridge the gap until a vaccine is widely available.”

Researchers at HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire hope the results of the study can be used to find and test possible treatments or cures for COVID-19 by using antibodies identified in patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The immune system is nature’s best doctor,” said Dr. Jian Han, founder and chief scientific officer of iRepertoire. “By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities.”

ACCELERATING TIMELINES

Involved in this battle on many fronts, UAB reported that it has raised more than $1.1 million for clinical and basic research focused on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.

The money was dedicated to clinical research and basic research projects proposed by UAB faculty in the School of Medicine. Fifty-two proposals were submitted, with 14 basic science projects selected for funding, with help from UAB’s Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute.

“Because of the urgency of this pandemic, one of the criteria was how quickly the research team could launch their study, and how quickly they could begin to see results,” said Dr. Etty (Tika) Benveniste, senior vice dean for Basic Sciences at UAB.

“We wanted research studies that could be reviewed at the three- and six-month time frames to determine their potential. That is a very accelerated timeline for research.”

UAB is also participating in a global clinical trial of potential COVID-19 treatments, including remdesivir, which has received emergency FDA approval as a therapeutic agent against the virus.

In addition, UAB and Birmingham’s Southern Research are collaborating with Scripps Research to test drugs that could be effective against COVID-19.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

BAMA task force targets PPE production for COVID-19 crisis and beyond

(Mercedes-Benz/Contributed)

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield says the state’s business community has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting output to produce badly needed personal protective equipment and medical gear for health care workers and ordinary citizens.

While most of these moves have been temporary, Secretary Canfield glimpses a potential opening for Alabama to become a domestic hub for permanent PPE production at a time when overseas supply lines for these items is being viewed as unreliable.

“We’ve been engaged in exploratory discussions with a number of Alabama companies about the possibility of producing protective equipment on a full-time basis as the need for a domestic pipeline for these materials becomes more apparent,” he said. “Alabama can take the lead on this important reshoring initiative, which can create jobs at home and enhance national security at the same time.”

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Since shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, Secretary Canfield has headed the Business and Manufacturing Alliance, or BAMA, a task force established by Governor Kay Ivey to locate and assist producers of PPE and medical equipment and supplies across the state.

In this role, he has worked closely with Birmingham attorney Brian Rell, who heads a procurement task force set up by the governor. David Klementz, chief strategy and development officer at Birmingham’s Encompass, has built a database to advance BAMA’s efforts. Officials from Alabama Power and the Business Council of Alabama have also been active.

“Secretary Canfield quickly recognized the PPE supply chain problem and immediately began to work with our in-state manufacturers to retool their operations to meet the needs of our health care workers,” said Rell, Congressman Robert Aderholt’s former Chief of Staff who was tapped to lead Governor Ivey’s ad hoc Strategic Assets group that was tasked with PPE procurement.

“From sourcing much needed manufacturing components for in-state business to helping companies navigate the government processes for acceptance, Greg had his sleeves rolled up to help them be successful,” he added.

STRATEGIC SHIFTS

The BAMA team identified around 50 homegrown companies that have the potential to produce PPE to meet emergency demand, while some could make a long-term shift to permanent production.

“I have worked on everything from helping source raw materials for companies to connecting companies for the purposes of linking them for production and working to launch startups,” Secretary Canfield said. “In addition, Commerce is working two projects at this point related to BAMA activity.”

One of those is HomTex Inc., a Cullman-based family firm that manufactures bed linens and other items. As orders for its traditional products dried up, company officials transitioned production to reusable cotton face masks, and orders began pouring in.

Supported by the Alabama Department of Commerce and local economic development officials, HomTex now plans to invest $5 million to install equipment to produce medical-grade surgical masks as a permanent domestic supplier. Read a story about the company’s plans.

Secretary Canfield said Commerce has embraced recruiting PPE producers as a new strategy that aligns with the urgent need to establish a domestic pipeline for the production of these critical materials.

As with HomTex, some of these targets already have operations in the state that can be reconfigured to produce protective equipment or medical supplies.

“A decision to make a change like this is never easy and has to be part of a long-term move for a company,” Secretary Canfield said. “There can be high capital costs to acquire new equipment and machinery, along with labor costs for training and hiring new workers.”

REFOCUSING PRODUCTION

Meanwhile, BAMA and its allies have worked with many Alabama companies, especially small manufacturers, to help them make a contribution in the fight against the coronavirus.

These companies have shifted production lines to turn out protective face shields and other items essential for health care workers, even if the production move isn’t planned to become permanent, Secretary Canfield said.

Among them:

  • Aptar CSP Technologies in Auburn has developed a N95 mask personal disinfecting system that allows the high-grade masks to be reused. The company is seeking FDA approval for the process.
  • Renfro’s operating plant in Ft. Payne is expanding into reusable cloth masks designed with assistance from Wake Forest Baptist Health. Secretary Canfield is working with the company to see if the shift has long-term potential.
  • Huntsville’s GATR is working with UAH engineers to develop a ventilator that uses the unique pump technology used in the company’s inflatable communications balloons.
  • Mobile’s Calagaz Printing, whose business primarily centers on printing menus and other items for restaurant chains, shifted production to face shields, quickly turning out more than 150,000 of them. Secretary Canfield has begun exploratory talks focusing on the possibility of the company entering this market on a permanent basis.

“From our perspective, we’re trying to do everything we can to identify and utilize the assets that we have in the state that can provide us with or produce the medical equipment and medical supplies that are needed during this crisis and beyond,” Secretary Canfield said.

Many of the state’s largest employers have also contributed through producing PPE such as face shields or making donations, including Hyundai, which coordinated the delivery of 10,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Warrior Met Coal plans Walker County barge facility amid major expansion

(Warrior Met Coal/Contributed)

JASPER, Alabama – Warrior Met Coal Inc. plans to invest $50 million to construct a barge load-out facility in Walker County to support its expanding metallurgical coal mining operation near Tuscaloosa, a project that will add 12 new high-paying jobs.

Warrior Met Coal is the state’s largest producer of met coal, used as a key component of steel production. The barge load-out facility, located in the southern portion of Walker County, will become integral to transporting the company’s coal production, according to David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Development Authority.

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The Brookwood-based company announced plans in February to construct and develop a new underground mining facility in northern Tuscaloosa County. Construction on the new project began in March, and operations are anticipated to begin during the last quarter of 2025.

This new mining operation in Tuscaloosa County involves a total investment of $578 million and will create 371 jobs.

Warrior Met Coal is the state’s largest producer of met coal, used as a key component of steel production. The barge load-out facility, located in the southern portion of Walker County, will become integral to transporting the company’s coal production, according to David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Development Authority.

The Brookwood-based company announced plans in February to construct and develop a new underground mining facility in northern Tuscaloosa County. Construction on the new project began in March, and operations are anticipated to begin during the last quarter of 2025.

This new mining operation in Tuscaloosa County involves a total investment of $578 million and will create 371 jobs.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Alabama connections run strong in NASA picks for moon lander systems

(NASA/Contributed)

NASA on Thursday selected three U.S. companies to design and develop a human landing system for its return mission to the Moon – and the program stands to have a strong Alabama connection.

“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Huntsville-based Dynetics is one of the three prime contractors selected to build human lander systems.

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“There’s really no more exciting mission than delivering humans to other planetary bodies,” said Kim Doering, Dynetics vice president of Space Systems. “However, it’s also among the most challenging endeavors, particularly given the goal of landing on the moon in 2024. We believe Dynetics has the recipe for success.”

The company is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System, a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.

The next-generation Vulcan rocket is being produced at the sprawling United Launch Alliance production facility in Decatur, America’s largest rocket factory.

Also selected as a prime contractor is Washington-based Blue Origin, which will build the three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and the Alabama-built ULA Vulcan rocket.

Blue Origin earlier this year officially opened a 350,000-square-foot rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, where it will produce its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine.

The third prime contractor is California-based Space X, which is developing the Starship, a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville is overseeing the development of the human landing system (HLS) for the Artemis program.

“I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at Marshall.

“We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024,” she added.

NASA experts will work closely with the commercial partners building the next human landing systems,  leveraging decades of human spaceflight experience and the speed of the commercial sector to achieve a Moon landing in 2024.

NASA said its commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions.

NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems followed by sustainable demonstration missions.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Gov. Ivey: New investment across Alabama topped $7 billion in 2019

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama — Governor Kay Ivey announced today that economic development activity across Alabama last year generated $7.1 billion in pledged capital investment and 13,454 job commitments, providing a potential spark for economic revival once the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic ease.

Governor Ivey said the results include strategic investments that reflect long-term growth plans in Alabama by major global companies, which can help the state regain momentum amid the nationwide economic downturn.

“While the coronavirus crisis has ushered in a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses, we believe that Alabama’s economic foundations remain strong and resilient,” she said.

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“I’m confident that the robust economic development activity we recorded in 2019 will help spur growth as we move forward on the road to full recovery.”

FOSTERING RELATIONSHIPS

The $7.103 billion in new capital investment announced in 2019 represents one of the most productive years for Alabama’s economic development team, just trailing the $7.147 billion in new investment registered in 2015. The record for new capital investment through economic development — $8.7 billion — was set in 2018.

The 2019 New & Expanding Industry Report, being released today, provides a comprehensive look at the 323 economic development projects completed across the state last year.

The report is compiled each year by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“Our economic development strategy is centered on developing longstanding relationships with high-performing companies so that they will put down roots in the state and grow through expansions over many years,” Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said.

“Those relationships will be key as the broader economy returns to a growth trajectory.”

Secretary Canfield said Alabama’s economic development team continues to work today with companies based in the U.S. and abroad that could include the state in growth initiatives in the future.

FOUNDATIONS

Key findings in the 2019 New & Expanding Industry Report include:

  • Growth in critical industry sectors including automotive and aerospace remained strong in 2019, building on strategic investments initiated in recent years. Large-scale projects were announced last year by companies such as Lockheed MartinHyundaiToyota and a host of suppliers to Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA.
  • Alabama attracted foreign direct investment topping $3.1 billion in 2019 from companies based in 19 different countries, generating 4,938 new and future jobs. South Korean and Japanese companies contributed the most foreign investment last year, primarily related to growth in Alabama’s auto industry.
  • Alabama’s rural, or “targeted” counties, attracted $905 million in new capital investment in 2019. These projects are expected to create 1,842 jobs. Barbour County will become home to 294 new jobs, tops among targeted counties.

The report shows that Madison County was the leader in new capital investment related to economic development projects in 2019, with $1.3 billion. Just behind were Montgomery, with $1 billion, and Limestone, with $626 million.

Limestone County led the way in job creation, with 1,931 job commitments through projects completed in 2019. Madison was No. 2, with 1,666 anticipated jobs, and Montgomery was No. 3, with 1,221 jobs.

“Despite all the challenges present today, we remain committed to fostering long-term economic growth across Alabama, and we will continue to energetically pursue high-value projects to spark job growth and create opportunities for our citizens,” Governor Ivey said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 months ago

Mercedes resumes production in Alabama with new safety measures

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

VANCE, Alabama – Mercedes-Benz is beginning to gradually ramp up production at its Alabama manufacturing plant after adopting robust safety measures to protect workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), as its Alabama operation is known, said operations began Monday with one shift. In coming weeks, the plant will be staffed with additional team members to move toward its full production volume.

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“We have developed robust and best practice safety measures to ensure our team member safety as we return to work,” the company said in a Tuesday night statement. “Our goal is a maximum reduction of personal contact and hygiene measures have been further intensified.

“As tasks permit, our team members also working remotely from home.”

Before re-opening, MBUSI said it obtained guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and benchmarked the best safety practices with groups such as the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

“Our team members’ health and safety has top priority at Mercedes-Benz,” the company said.

MBUSI halted production at the Alabama plant last month in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“During our shutdown, we have monitored and learned from other Mercedes-Benz plants around the world as they returned to work,” its statement said.

“Measures adopted in Alabama include the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks at entry and separation of team members in break rooms, cafes and common areas.”

MBUSI said it will continue to monitor federal and state guidance and regulations throughout this ramp-up period and will make whatever changes necessary to ensure worker safety and meet the required production capacities of SUV models produced in Alabama.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Birmingham firm provides high-tech helping hand to companies in COVID-19 crisis

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

During the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are wrestling with the challenges of travel bans and social distancing practices, but one Birmingham firm is offering a way to keep business operations going through mobile augmented reality technology.

Help Lightning’s high-tech solution allows technicians to remotely guide on-site equipment repairs and perform other mission-critical tasks for customers in manufacturing, health care and other industries.

Though the company’s services were in demand before the coronavirus crisis began, interest has surged in recent weeks, according to Help Lightning CEO Gary York.

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“In the last month alone, the number of calls made using Help Lightning increased over 400 percent as existing and new customers ramped up to deliver expertise remotely,” he said.

Earlier this month, Atlanta-based Cox Communications, the nation’s largest private telecom company, announced a partnership with Help Lightning to launch its “On-site with Virtual Assist” service.

With Help Lightning’s technology, Cox said its technicians can handle service requests from outside a customer’s home, without the need to go inside to troubleshoot a repair, protecting both the customer and the technician.

York said Help Lightning technology assisted a company in hard-hit Italy.

“One customer had a critical piece of equipment go down in Milan right when Italy started their lockdown,” he said. “Using Help Lightning, they were able to get it back up without sending someone – even faster than if they had dispatched a technician. They avoided exposure of their employee to the virus and resolved the problem.”

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Help Lightning is a prime example of an innovative Alabama technology firm that is providing real-world solutions to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Help Lightning and its cutting-edge technology are helping many businesses overcome difficult conditions in today’s challenging times, while demonstrating to the world that a high level of innovation is taking place in our state,” Secretary Canfield said.

ACCELERATING ADOPTION

Help Lightning actually got its start through the work of Dr. Bart Guthrie, a neurosurgeon at UAB Medical Center and prolific inventor who wanted to share life-saving surgical techniques with doctors in other parts of the world. He knew that simple video wouldn’t do the trick given the complexity of the surgical procedures.

Guthrie would need to be there “virtually,” with his hands and instruments in the field of view, to guide another surgeon remotely.

York said Help Lightning’s patented Virtual Interactive Presence technology represents the outcome of Guthrie’s work. (Guthrie, who is still at UAB, remains a member of the company’s board.)

It didn’t take long to realize that brain surgery wasn’t the only application for the technology. In fact, the company, which launched in 2016, found an immediate market in companies conducting field service and customer service activities.

“Anywhere that an organization had to send out a technician to repair a piece of equipment, Help Lightning could be used to virtually bring an expert on-site and guide a technician or customer through the repair,” York said.

Today, Help Lightning serves Fortune 1000 companies that have a presence in over 90 countries around the world.

York said the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating adoption of its remote expertise platforms.

“I absolutely believe that business is being changed forever. Many of these changes were being adopted by more forward-thinking companies over the past four years,” he said. “This crisis has become the catalyst for adoption and use of remote expertise solutions. The pandemic has been an inflection point.”

York said the technology is allowing some companies to keep their workers on the job by shifting them to provide remote service. “We feel there is an opportunity to save jobs at times like this when you can’t be there in person.”

True to its roots, Help Lightning is being used in hospitals to perform virtual pre-surgical patient visits, reducing the risk of spreading infection and the need for scarce personal protective equipment.

“Help Lightning serves many major medical device companies that are ramping up now to support more testing and to deliver critical medical equipment,” York said. “A few of our customers have declared Help Lightning as an ‘Essential Business’ in their supply chain. We are glad to do our part to bend the curve on the impact of the virus and to blunt the impact of the economic downturn.”

York added that Help Lightning, based at the Innovation Depot technology incubator, remains anchored in Birmingham. The company has 30 employees, most of them located in Birmingham.

“Birmingham is home for me. We have received tremendous support from our community as we have raised funds, sought top talent, and grown to support companies all over the world,” he said. “Innovation Depot is a treasure for our city. And our community always seems to come together to make Birmingham a better place to live.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Auburn says 100 emergency ventilators have been assembled

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

AUBURN, Alabama – Auburn University says more than 100 of its innovative emergency ventilators – converted from CPAP machines – have been assembled and may soon join the fight against COVID-19.

Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering said today that it has teamed with defense contractor Integrated Solutions for Systems (IS4S) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to begin assembling the RE-InVENT devices.

Auburn said several medical facilities around the world, preparing for worst-case coronavirus patient load scenarios, have reached out to the RE-InVENT team for possible assistance.

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In response, a team of 14 engineers and support staff from Huntsville-based IS4S assembled 100 RE-InVENT units in just three days late last week.

“We’ve worked with IS4S on multiple projects for years,” said Michael Zabala, an assistant mechanical engineering professor who helped lead the RE-InVENT project.

“Because of our great partnership with IS4S, we have been able to move extremely fast toward building the first 100 units, and ultimately towards getting them to those who need them.”

Ryan Hill, an IS4S research engineer and Auburn graduate, said IS4S will spend the coming week readying the current stock of RE-InVENT devices for eventual distribution.

“We have already received requests from a number of hospitals, and our goal is to obtain appropriate approvals so that we can begin deploying the units,” said Hill, who played an active role on the engineering team that developed and refined RE-InVENT.

Currently in its third iteration, Auburn said RE-InVENT has twice been tested on live animals, with both tests underscoring the device’s design and efficacy as a backup option in the absence of a conventional ventilator.

“While many companies across the country are building ventilators, we thought few could assemble and produce the needed devices in under a week when sources indicated the peak local resource usage would occur,” he said.

“Once the successful animal test was completed, IS4S immediately began taking the steps to fabricate the units for eventual distribution.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Hyundai to provide COVID-19 testing resources in Montgomery region

(Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama/Contributed)

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama today announced its support to increase COVID-19 testing in Montgomery and surrounding counties through a collaborative effort with Mayor Steven Reed.

Hyundai’s Alabama operation (HMMA) is coordinating an in-kind donation of 10,000 COVID-19 RT-PCR tests developed by Seegene, a South Korean molecular diagnostics firm. Seegene’s test can simultaneously detect three genes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

HMMA President and CEO Byungjin Jin said the support stems from a request from Mayor Reed for help in locating more tests for Montgomery and surrounding communities when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Alabama.

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“He recognized South Korea’s best practice of extensive drive-thru testing was critical to protecting the health care workers and patients from potential spread of novel coronavirus, while critically identifying those most in need,” he said. “HMMA is honored to safeguard the health of citizens in Alabama.”

CRITICAL TESTING

Reed said Hyundai has shown an “unyielding commitment” to the Montgomery region through job creation, capital investment and generous corporate giving. Its auto assembly plant in Montgomery employs more than 3,000 people and announced a $410 million expansion in November.

“Today, Hyundai builds upon this legacy of charity by donating thousands of coronavirus tests to save countless lives and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city, our state and our region,” Reed said.

“We thank Hyundai’s global leadership and President Jin locally for prioritizing the health and well-being of HMMA’s team members, as well as that of their families and neighbors throughout Montgomery,” he added.

HMMA has previously provided support to local medical providers with donations of food and protective face shields. Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

“The support from the business community to COVID-19 has been nothing short of remarkable,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “Hyundai Motor Manufacturing is an integral part of Alabama’s economy and an invaluable partner to the River Region.

“By providing these critical testing kits, they are truly saving lives.”

Hyundai is the first automaker to supply the Seegene tests in the U.S., and it is distributing them to select institutions in hard-hit areas such as New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

Alabama companies pivot to produce supplies for health care workers

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Alabama industries large and small are coming together to support health care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing in Huntsville and Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa County are among the state’s biggest employers that are deploying resources to produce face masks and face shields for hospitals and first responders.

Beyond that, clothing designers, textile manufacturers, breweries and a host of other companies across Alabama have quickly pivoted their daily operations to turn out protective gear, medical equipment and hand sanitizer.

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An estimated 45 businesses in the state are looking at shifting to produce personal protective equipment, or PPE, said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

For some, those shifts have required new capital investments, additional equipment and retraining of employees, he added.

“We’re proud to see so many companies stepping up in this time of great need, with Alabama workers answering the call to support their neighbors and communities,” he said.

Employees at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Tuscaloosa County are making face masks and face shields for local hospitals.

They are using the plant’s 3D printers to produce face shields, at a rate of 100 to 150 per day. They’re also making masks, which can be sterilized up to 25 times.

Other Alabama automakers have joined in the effort as well, producing equipment, donating supplies and providing design and manufacturing expertise.

BOEING FACE SHIELDS

Meanwhile, Boeing today delivered an initial shipment of 2,300 reusable, 3D-printed face shields to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The companywide effort includes its Huntsville employees, who are using additive manufacturing machines to 3D-print a frame with an adjustable headband that allows a clear plastic face shield to be snapped onto it.

Boeing worked with healthcare providers across the U.S. to understand the most urgent needs and align those with its manufacturing capabilities.

Today’s shipment of face shields will be distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Boeing employees nationwide are set to produce thousands per week.

“Boeing is proud to stand alongside many other great American companies in the fight against COVID-19, and we are dedicated to supporting our local communities, especially our frontline healthcare professionals, during this unprecedented time,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun.

Elsewhere in Alabama, Cullman County’s HomTex plant has shifted from producing luxury linens to filtered face masks, with a total of several hundred thousand already. And Fort Payne sock maker, Renfro Corp., is ramping up to produce masks as well.

Other efforts include breweries in several communities that are making hand sanitizer and a partnership between Birmingham wedding dress designer Heidi Elnora and Moulton’s Red Land Cotton that has so far produced and distributed more than 15,000 face masks.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

4 months ago

3-D printers join race to produce face shields for healthcare workers

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Doctors and nurses caring for COVID-19 patients at Birmingham’s UAB Hospital will soon receive protective face shields thanks to 3-D printing technology and a partnership involving the Alabama Productivity Center at the University of Alabama, Alabama Power and UAB’s School of Engineering.

Alan Hill, executive director of the Culverhouse College of Business’s Alabama Productivity Center (APC), said the effort is moving ahead quickly despite getting started only last Friday.

Already, the Alabama Productivity Center’s two 3-D printers, running non-stop over the weekend, have turned out over 30 plastic headbands for the face shields. At the UAB School of Engineering, Justin Koch is producing headbands on five 3-D printers, and Scott Bishop of Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center is printing headbands on two printers and laser cutting the plastic shields for some of the headbands produced. Final assembly is expected to take place at UAB.

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“This is a really tremendous team effort,” Hill said. “My wife is a nurse at UAB Hospital, and as this is building, we’ve all seen the struggles that healthcare workers are going through right now.

“They’re the true heroes in this.”

Bishop, the team leader at Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center, said the group hopes to soon be able to turn out 50 to 100 completed face shields per day.

“We’re not making thousands of face shields a day, but we’re trying to do our part. That can be said of what we’re doing and what others are doing. If we all do our part, we can help meet that need,” Bishop said.

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the effort represents a great example of the state’s education community joining forces with the private sector to combat COVID-19.

“Right now, the effort is really focused on the needs of UAB Hospital, but if the team can broaden the production network to other universities and partners in Alabama, they should be able to provide more of a statewide focus,” Secretary Canfield said.

UNIVERSITY EFFORTS

Meanwhile, employees at the University of Montevallo have embarked on a similar mission to produce face shields for Shelby Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster.

The Montevallo effort was sparked by Michael Price of the university’s Carmichael Library, who read news reports about people making personal protective equipment to donate to hospitals. He turned to a colleague at the university, Kyle Moore, who also had access to a 3-D printer.

The group’s goal is to print and deliver 50 ready-to-use protective face masks to the Alabaster hospital to help protect medical professionals as they treat patients affected by COVID-19.

“We both have had printers running for the past week,” Price said last Friday. “Printing two masks and two filter holders takes about six-and-a-half hours.”

Another group at UA is also doing its part. The University’s MBA Network and the Culverhouse College of Business STEM MBA Program have partnered with the College of Engineering and a local network of makers to create face shields.

The group has produced 120 shields and distributed them through the University of Alabama CCHS network, which will provide them to the DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa and local health care providers.

The group has enough material to produce about 1,000 additional shields and aims to keep production going as long as needed. In the future, it hopes to produce masks, gowns and gloves.

SCALING PRODUCTION

To help meet expected surging demand for the face shields, Hill at the Alabama Productivity Center said his group is looking to scale up the production effort and recruit new partners across the state.

Another 3-D printer based at the UA College of Engineering is being added to the Alabama Productivity Center’s impromptu assembly line, thanks to Professor Paul Allison. Conversations are taking place with private businesses and others across Alabama that could pitch in critical resources and expertise.

The Alabama Productivity Center is affiliated with the Alabama Community College System’s Alabama Technology Network, so other ATN centers in the state could also be valuable partners, Hill said.

The project got started last Friday after Bishop reached out to UAB’s Koch and the Alabama Productivity Center’s Jody Beck with the idea of producing the face shields.

Beck recruited his wife, Sadie, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at UA, to help out. Since the university is closed, Beck had already moved the Alabama Productivity Center’s two desktop 3-D printers to the family residence, now turned workshop.

“These circumstances created a perfect fit to help support an important project with the largest medical facility in our state to combat this terrible virus,” Hill said.  “Jody and Sadie have run these printers around the clock this weekend and had produced 19 face shield headbands by Monday morning.”

Because it takes around three hours for one of the Alabama Productivity Center’s printers to produce a single headband, it’s clear that partners with 3-D printing capabilities could be a massive help in turning out the much-needed face shields, Hill said.

“This is a no-fee project for us, but it is probably one of the most impactful we will do this year,” he said.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)