As school districts have shifted to a new normal of delivering meals and utilizing school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots, many school transportation industry suppliers have also switched up their operations to manufacture medical supplies needed to fight the spread of COVID-19.
These supplies include respirator masks, medical beds and personal protective equipment (PPE) used by first responders to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.
For instance, as STN previously reported, Texas-based Heavy Duty Bus Parts (HDBP), known for providing school bus parts, equipment and accessories to school districts and bus contractors, transformed its operation to create an N95 mask prototype that was sent to the National Institute for Occupational Safety for testing and certification for medical use. A company representative told STN that testing of the N95 masks by a Nelsons Laboratory LLC in Utah is expected to start soon.
Meanwhile, Rosco Vision Systems, a global manufacturer of automotive vision safety products for the bus and truck marketplace, formed a coronavirus committee in February to stay ahead of emergency situations, to better protect the health and job security of its employees. The committee met daily to prepare and plan for the possibility of temporary closures of Rosco and its supply chain.
“Before the rise and peak of the spread, Rosco worked with suppliers and customers including OEMs to ramp up manufacturing and shipments to get ahead of schedules and make sure there would be no interruption to customers, as many of them are part of the essential workforce and supply chain,” Amy Ahn-You, senior manager for the marketing and digital engagement department at Rosco, told School Transportation News.
Because the Rosco headquarters in the New York City borough of Queens is located so close to the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus spread, the company said its workforce was split into two shifts to create physical distancing during manufacturing operations.
The company also joined the initiatives to supply PPE medical equipment to frontline workers. Rosco, in conjunction with the nonprofit Keep Breathing, Inc., continues to manufacture and donate 3D-printed ventilator splitters, face shields, intubation boxes, ear savers and powered air-purifying respirators, for medical staff on the frontline. The company also worked with different hospitals to provide goggles, suits and masks to those in need. The supplies have reportedly been donated to the New York State of Health, as well as to local hospitals in New York.
“We’ve even had employees and their families pitch in to assemble face shields at home which we’re very grateful for,” Ahn-You said. “It was very important for us to do our part and use our capabilities to help our frontline workers.”
She added that even while manufacturing PPE the company is still able to keep their regular operations open and meet the demands for their school bus customers.
“We are able to program jobs and have our machines run during off-hours to keep our regular manufacturing operations as well as our COVID-19 donation efforts,” Ahn-You explained. “We have not seen any issues doing both, but we have seen a slowing need for some of the supplies originally in high demand during the pandemic which is a good sign. We will continue to do what we can to help and support fighting the coronavirus.”
Steffi Products LLC, based in western New York state, has a similar story, as it transitioned from manufacturing from high visibility crossing gloves that help students better see the hand signals from their school bus drivers, to high-visibility safety masks.
Victoria DeCarlo, business manager for Steffi Products, said once the purchasing of its “normal” products slowed and came to halt, she started looking at other ways to best utilize its New York facility.
“During the epidemic downtime, I designed and produced high visibility safety mask prototypes,” DeCarlo explained. “Soon after that, we were contacted by road construction workers and received orders. There is a need for safety masks for essential construction workers, so why not offer up high visibility masks to exponentially increase their safety. I have to say, wherever they turn their heads, no doubt, they will be seen.”
DeCarlo, who has also been a school bus driver Lake Shore Central Schools in Angola, New York, for the past 27 years, said school bus drivers are also ordering the high-visibility masks. She noted that her customers, both construction workers and school bus drivers saw an importance in their function.
She said construction employees have told her that the masks not only help them comply with the current state mandate of wearing a mask when working within six feet of another person. The masks also help when working around job site dust and when stripping roads.
“Transitioning to making masks has kept the company rolling and made it very interesting to say the least,” DeCarlo said.
More Companies Helping Where They Can
Cummins and personal protection equipment manufacturer DuPont are also helping to address the nation’s shortage of N95 respirator masks. The two companies partnered to provide Cummins’ NanoNet and NanoForce Media technology, which uses DuPoints Hybrid Membrane Technology to filter harmful airborne particles through N95 respirator masks worn by healthcare professionals.
United Safety & Survivability Corporation, better known as USSC Group and for its fire suppression system brand Fogmaker North America, pivoted its manufacturing to start producing PEE face shields and N95 masks.
Child Check-Mate Systems, another subsidiary of USSC Group, is also actively seeking partnerships in the medical community as well as the transportation industry to develop infrared thermal sensing that could identify people who are sick before they enter a building, potentially even a school bus.
Brad Both, vice president of Child Check-Mate, said many medical tests and certifications would be necessary before a product could come to market, but the company is exploring possibilities with long-term care facilities and a transit authority in Canada.
HSM Transportation continues to produce school bus seating and components, such as C.E. White seatbelts, but it is currently focused on manufacturing protective masks, medical gowns, medical bedding components, and medical mattresses.
Related: NSTA Urges School Bus Drivers Be Classified as COVID-19 Essential Workers
Related: School Bus Wi-Fi to Support Distance Learning During & After COVID-19
Related: STN Podcast Episode 5 – Here’s the Plan: A New Normal for Schools and Busing, Post-Coronavirus
Related: Coronavirus Pay: What About the School Bus Drivers?
Meanwhile, 247Security, provider of digital video camera and recording systems, told School Transportation News that it is designing a face shield. It shared that 10,000 units will be distributed throughout the school bus industry at no cost. The design will be shared publicly for reproduction and 3D printing.
In addition to altering its manufacturing, prior to the outbreak company engineers were working on developing sensor and video recognition technology to install in facilities, homes and potentially even school buses to measure and track health symptoms. However, Robert Scott, senior vice president of strategy for the company, said the artificial intelligence technology now could potentially have an application in school buildings and school buses. He explained that health data could potentially be accessed via an app or computer to identify a patient’s condition and help reroute that person to medical attention.
Scott added that 247Security is hoping to work with school districts to develop custom solutions. He noted that 247 has the engineering capability to provide solutions to even some of the most complex situations.