Chelmsford packaging company sends PPE to front lines – Lowell Sun
Novolex employee Eluvia Ramirez wears a face shield.

CHELMSFORD — A Chelmsford facility known for producing cups and cutlery now assembles face shields for those at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Novolex, a South Carolina-based packaging company, began manufacturing face shields and isolation gowns in early April. Its Chelmsford plant now produces headgear for face shields, according to Senior Vice President of Innovation Adrianne Tipton.

“There’s definitely a need in the market and we’re filling it as fast as we can,” she said.

The company has the capacity to craft more than 400,000 face shields per week, and upwards of 250,000 masks per day, according to Tipton, who lives in Dallas.

“From a manufacturing standpoint, it was a fairly easy transition — we use similar equipment, we just had to make designs within the capabilities of our machinery,” Tipton said.

Novolex produces everything from stadium cups to dinnerware to packaging for bird feed, fertilizer and soil. But the demand for these products is lower than normal, Tipton said.

Eluvia Ramirez (left) and Alejandrina Rosario package boxes.

In mid-March, a dedicated team began designing new tools to create shields and gowns using existing machinery — for example, a mold used to turn plastic pellets into headgear for face shields. It normally takes about six to 12 months to design new products, but the Novolex team designed the new molds in just a few days.

“We were able to expedite this process,” Tipton said. “It was a very focused effort over a short period of time versus trying to spread a bunch of resources over multiple projects.”

It took about another week or so to cut and test the molds. The system was up and running within about three weeks of initial design, Tipton said. The first PPE products were produced in Texas.

“I think Novolex is definitely a company of integrity, and we wanted to support and help in any way possible,” she said. “We’re also very adamant about making sure that we sold at a reasonable market price, that we’re not price gouging in the market.”

Eluvia Ramirez assembles a face shield.

Novolex has sold PPE to hospitals and distributors throughout the United States and in Canada. The company’s facilities in Ireland and the United Kingdom also produce face shields for sale in Europe. A shield typically sells at about 90 cents, and an isolation gown goes for between $2 and $3, according to Tipton.

Gowns produced by Novolex are not surgical-grade but are certified to be worn when seeing patients. The company follows Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

“Because we do food packaging, all of our plants have food certification, so we have processes in place … that are in alignment with the medical device production. So it wasn’t a far stretch for us,” Tipton said.

In addition, the project has allowed Novolex to keep more staff employed during the pandemic.

“Just being able to keep people working as much as possible … is important to us,” Tipton said.

Going forward, the company aims to kick-start PPE production by sending molds to more plants like the one in Chelmsford. The local facility constructs headgear and assembles face shields using other parts created elsewhere.

“We will continue producing as long as there is a need,” Tipton said. “It’s great that we can provide front-line workers with PPE,” she added later.