We spoke with Kelly MacKay, Director of Sales, about how the current COVID-19 crisis is affecting New England Wire Technologies, and what business impacts the company is seeing. Kelly is a long-time employee of New England Wire and just recently celebrated 30 years of continuous employment at NEWT!
First off, how is everyone doing at the company, is everyone healthy?
Fortunately our employees and their families have remained healthy, and at least to date have not been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The company has taken the necessary precautions to minimize exposure through increased cleaning protocols, the use of face masks for protection, daily temperature and wellness checks, the option to work remotely, and implementation of social-distancing wherever possible within the facilities. Overall the attitude of the employees has been very positive, with most willing to do all they can to protect themselves and others in order to maintain a safe work environment. I should also add that there is great pride taken in the fact that we have been deemed an essential business and are able to provide such a valuable service to our customers who are manufacturing components to fight this crisis.
We are also very lucky to live and work in an area with direct access to the great outdoors, where social-distancing is much easier, allowing us to more freely move about and take advantage of fresh air and wide-open spaces.
So, is NEWT still working a “regular” schedule?
Yes, from the beginning, we’ve maintained our normal hours of operation – Monday through Friday with all 3 shifts covered in manufacturing.
Has the company had to make any specific adjustments to operations or manufacturing in light of the current situation?
NEWT has made adjustments to accommodate social-distancing practices within our manufacturing space, moving equipment and/or personnel where possible. Some personnel have changed shifts in order to enable us to reduce the number of people working in certain areas. We have always promoted a can-do attitude throughout the organization, and this situation is no different. People are willing to do what they need to do in order to get the job done.
You mention NEWT has been deemed an essential business. What industries do you support?
Among many other industries, NEWT has supported the medical device and military markets for many years. However, these times are extraordinary; while some of our customers’ business is being negatively impacted by COVID-19, others business is exploding. We have manufactured cable products for medical applications such as ventilators, respirators, electro-surgical devices and other patient-care components for decades. The volume requirements for these types of products varies greatly based on the end-application, but until a month or so ago we had never seen such a drastic increase in demand.
We were approached by several large medical subcontractors who required an immediate response to a significant increase and short-term ramp-up in production. We are not talking about a single cable product, though, there are a number of different cable constructions involved in this project. The challenge was to very quickly determine how we could allocate raw materials and personnel, re-deploy equipment, and adjust manufacturing schedules to accommodate such a critical need. Within a matter of days a plan was put in place and implementation began. There was never a question of IF we could support this disruptive need, but the determination to do everything we could to support it.
Ventilators have obviously received a lot of attention lately. Have you seen new design requirements for these cables, or primarily increased production demands?
As I mentioned, NEWT has been involved in the design, development and manufacture of medical device components for many years. Today, the sale of our specialty medical electronics products represents approximately 30% of our overall business. Many of the critical-need cables we are currently manufacturing in support of the ventilator and respirator applications were designed some time ago and historically produced at relatively low volumes. However, there have also been several “new” cables designed and ordered which are specific to these applications. We’re honored to be part of some of the most critical, life-saving products in healthcare, and are always amazed at the innovation within the medical device industry. I am certain that we will remember this time for years to come – a time when generations of NEWT families within our organization have had the opportunity to take part in supporting such a critical world-wide need.
Although the influx of these large-volume orders has impacted our capacity, we still strive to support the non-medical / non-military applications for those customers who have continued operations. We are doing all we can to promote a healthy environment, keeping as many people working as possible.
How has NEWT responded to the surge in need for ventilator cables?
NEWT has responded as we always have when a customer reaches out requesting a “miracle” – we pull the team together and determine what needs to be done and identify who is responsible. Our dedicated workforce has always understood the importance of supporting our customers’ needs, as our success is dependent upon our ability to deliver quality product when the customer requires it.
Although NEWT’s vertical integration enables us to be very self-sufficient in terms of adjusting capacities and material-flow at almost a moment’s notice, it is also important to recognize that this particular situation required commitment from our supply chain as well. In order to meet the demand we reached out to several key suppliers to ensure that they would continue operations in order to support our needs. All of NEWT’s manufacturing is in northern New Hampshire, with a primarily domestic supply chain, so we are able to react very quickly when a critical situation arises. That is not to say that we don’t utilize any overseas suppliers, but that the majority of our key suppliers are here in the USA. This has always served us well in terms of enabling us to provide a quick response to our customers.
What do you see for the future of NEWT?
Ahh, the million dollar question! These are such uncertain times for anyone in manufacturing right now, and it is impossible to know what the world will look like when things “get back to normal.” I don’t think things will ever again be what they were in terms of how we do business, or at least not for a very long time. The way we communicate with our suppliers, our customers, and even our colleagues working at other locations may be changed forever. This poses some interesting challenges in terms of developing new relationships, but it also creates an opportunity to focus on our internal processes and make sure we are as efficient and effective as possible in meeting our customers’ current and future needs.
NEWT has flourished in over 120 years of business, surviving a number of recessions over the years. I believe we will continue to do what we do best – rise to the challenges put forth by our customers, designing and developing highly customized solutions to bring technology forward. We continue to invest in our equipment, facilities and personnel; positioning us for continued growth for many years to come.