Collaboration during time of crisis: Area businesses connect to mass produce cots for pandemic response

Thanks to collaboration with other area businesses, Pioneer IWS,  outside of Kidron, has been able to produce thousands of cots to ship across the country to help during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Jason King at Miller Weldmaster works on a field hospital cot.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is packed with 1,000 field hospital cots manufactured by Pioneer IWS.

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PIONEER AND MILLER WELDMASTER

In early March, the global novel coronavirus pandemic came too close to home when two local brothers discovered they were exposed to the virus at a trade show. They were quarantined for 14 days. Thankfully, they did not contract COVID-19.

During those two weeks, as the threat grew across the country, the brothers began to wonder if there was something they could do to contribute during the crisis. Eddie Wengerd, general manager of Pioneer IWS (Industrial Workflow Solutions), read about the expected shortage of hospital beds and Personal Protective Equipment throughout the United States.

The wheels in their heads began to turn. While Pioneer is not equipped to produce PPE, the steel fabricator three miles east of Kidron had the potential to make a significant impact by helping out the nation’s healthcare system by manufacturing hospital cots.

Events that followed happened remarkably quickly thanks to collaboration with other area manufacturers.

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

Brent Nussbaum, president of Miller Weldmaster, not far from Dalton, received a call early March 27 from Daniel and Steven Wengerd at Pioneer. The brothers explained they had a prototype with a frame for a field hospital cot but needed material for the cushion portion.

Nussbaum did not hesitate. He was happy to help. And he understood the tight deadline.

“This all went down kind of quick,” Nussbaum said, noting Miller Weldmaster has had “a great relationship with Pioneer over the years.”
Nussbaum put the Wengerds in touch with material suppliers, Seaman Corporation in Wooster and Snyder Manu-facturing in Dover. After some driving and a parking lot meeting following social distancing guidelines, by 4:30 p.m. they welded the first cot and cushion prototype and tested out a finished product.

“I’ve never worked so hard for a product I hope no one ever uses,” Nussbaum said.

Miller Weldmaster manufactures equipment for welding thermal plastic material together. The company has more than 100 employees and supplies equipment globally. During the state’s original stay-at-home order, the company shut down for a couple of weeks for the safety of their employees. Staff members travel around the world installing and fixing equipment and the company wanted to keep everyone in the company healthy. Some employees are back at work now, some are working remotely, and some are waiting to return after being furloughed.

Miller Weldmaster’s equipment also has been responsible for making the tents or partitions that can be seen separating cots from each other.
“We entered into very small scale manufacturing to get them (Pioneer IWS) started,” Nussbaum said. “We did a short run of a couple 100 cots and cushions until they were able to find a local supply chain to take over.

“It’s the power of networking, the power of connections because we didn’t have to do anything crazy,” Nussbaum continued. “With our team we assembled here at Miller Weldmaster it was the contacts in our phones. It was people we knew we could get immediate action on.
“It’s times like this that gets equipment manufacturers thinking what can I do?” Nussbaum said. “Everybody can do something.”

QUICK TURNAROUND

On April 3, Pioneer IWS made its first delivery of 48 trauma center and field hospital cots to Long Island, New York. Five days later, 1,000 beds were ready to be set up at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Since then, thousands more have been sent across the country for use in makeshift hospitals.

“To me, it speaks volumes for our community,” said Leon Wengerd, co-owner of Pioneer IWS. “It’s just a wonderful experience just to see everybody pulling together to make this work.”

The Amish family-owned manufacturer has temporarily halted its usual production of items including horse-drawn plows, carriage gears, mobile workstations, custom steel fabrication.

Pioneer retooled its manufacturing facility to be able to crank out a completed cot every 30 seconds.

“After quarantine, they helped make this a reality,” Wengerd said last week about his brothers who had been exposed to the virus.

The entire family has helped to make the cot project possible. Wengerd’s father, Wayne, founded in 1978 the core business that has designed and fabricated agricultural equipment. Now, seven sons and one daughter work with almost 50 employees.

Pioneer’s sales and engineering team designed the cot. John Wengerd, project manager, set up the assembly line to be able to produce 1,000 cots a day, if needed.

Leon Wengerd said none of this would have been possible without the “collaboration of local manufacturers working together to achieve a common goal.”

“We approached other local businesses for assistance with the project – specifically those with expertise in other areas, like fabrics,” Eddie Wengerd said in a news release. “The response was overwhelming with leaders of other businesses going above and beyond with urgency. Those connections, and our talented team of committed employees, formed a spirited collaboration to make it happen – and happen very quickly.”

Along with Nussbaum of Miller Weldmaster, the Pioneer IWS news release lists Seaman Corporation and Brian Graber, owner of Arise Tents. David Swartzentruber, owner of Zentru Home Furnishing, Jason Weaver, president of Weaver Leather, and James Miller, of Snyder Manufacturing, are key contributors, the release states.

“Pioneer has done a fantastic job mobilizing the effort to build cots for the medical field and we’ve been happy to support their effort,” said Jason Weaver, president and CEO of Weaver Leather in Mt. Hope. “We originally discussed building cots in our metal fabrication shop but heard that Pioneer had already started working on this idea.  Instead of starting up independently and contributing to the already seemingly disjointed and fragmented efforts to provide PPE, I decided it would be better to call Daniel at Pioneer and see if we could complement their efforts.

“The great thing about our community is diverse capabilities, a desire to serve, and great relationships marked by the willingness to collaborate with each other,” Weaver wrote in an email. “It turned out that we were able to contribute to their efforts in a small way by building dies and notching the vinyl material used for the cots so they could slide over the frame.

“It’s been great pulling together with other local business to leverage each of our strengths to supply critical needs on such a tight timeline,” Weaver continued.

Josh Troyer, co-owner of VIZTECH, a local marketing firm, got the word out to customers, the news release states. Lyon Group, from Chicago, has been a key ingredient in distribution. Other companies in Pioneer’s own supply chain have assisted.

“We believe in standing together in times of adversity,” Daniel Wengerd, CEO of Pioneer, states in the release. “In difficult times we have an opportunity to pull together and seek ways to make a difference. It is simply our duty to help our fellow man in time of need – and be a light to the world in these latter times. Our business belongs to the Lord. We are called to serve others and be faithful stewards of His resources in this journey of life.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments by Jason Weaver, president and CEO of Weaver Leather, were added to this updated version of the story after the print edition was sent to the press and the e-edition was posted to the website.

Leave a Comment