By Greg Heiland, Fiscal Vice President, IEST Executive Board
Like for much of the nation, business ran as usual for Valutek at the start of 2020. My company, an Arizona-based manufacturer of consumable products for controlled environments, went along happily producing gloves, wipers, apparel, adhesive mats and related supplies for the life sciences, advanced material and academia markets.
Fast forward to the end of January: core customer purchases of wipers spiked, and a new wave of clients began purchasing our pre-wetted alcohol wipers.
By mid-February, that wave became a tsunami as the COVID-19 outbreak escalated. Demand skyrocketed for these wipers as people flocked to the internet in search of “alcohol” and “wipers.” The volume of orders swelled to the point that we were forced to temporarily close our website.
‘Do the Right Thing’
Wiper orders by our legacy distributors and cleanroom end-users doubled as they wanted to use the wipers throughout their facilities. Our prewetted wiper customer base went from about 95 percent cleanroom customers and 5 percent hobbyists to 50 percent cleanroom customers and 50 percent healthcare workers interested in disinfecting.
Because Valutek manufactures the prewetted wipers in our cleanroom, our biggest challenge was managing the supply chain for the alcohol and the wiper substrate. One of our core values is to “do the right thing.” So, we decided the right thing in this time means taking care of our core customers first and foremost – keeping them in stock of the critical products they require, which are gloves and wipes. And then we would determine how to onboard new customers who are frontline workers.
We focused on where we could succeed and how we could make the biggest impact – that meant putting the most resources around the pre-wetted wipers. We tripled the number of production operators and increased production more than five-fold. We expanded the capacity of our double containment, gravity feed (for safety), high purity bulk dispensing system. We also began offering two types of alcohol: Isopropyl alcohol (IPA)-based wipes that are chemically pure and don’t leave a residue – critical for cleanrooms – and Ethyl alcohol (Ethanol)-based wipes that provide the same cleaning properties of IPA, but more appropriate for less critical applications. We created an allocation system to avoid hoarding and to ensure fairness. And, staying true to our core values, we did not markup the product from pre-COVID pricing levels.
‘The New Normal’
Before the pandemic, people largely weren’t following what they know they should do – vigorous handwashing and not touching their eyes, face, and mouth. People now understand more about airborne viruses and that there are potential viruses everywhere – the things you can’t see can potentially harm you.
How long will the elevated disinfectant measures and more rigorous hygiene practices remain in place? It might be the new normal – and I hope it is. It would benefit all of us if the appropriate best practices in contamination control for cleanrooms continue to be embraced and adopted in our daily lives.
Greg Heiland is founder and CEO of Valutek.