A new and innovative partnership will soon bear some positive fruit.
According to Gaston College spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett, it means providing better products for the medical community and potentially creating new small business opportunities.
How? As Pickett explained Wednesday, the Gaston College Textile Technology Center in Belmont is collaborating with the Catawba Valley Community Manufacturing Solutions Center in Conover, the City of Conover, Gaston County and the private sector to create a launch pad for prototyping and testing reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) products for entrepreneurs and existing manufacturers in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In support of this effort, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill to make this possible, which includes $14.3 million in funding.
The allocated funding also includes a $9 million grant for the City of Conover. About $7.25 million of this is for constructing a purpose-built facility to house testing labs, rapid prototyping and a textile-sourcing library. The manufacturing solutions center will get $1.25 million to develop a clean room up-fit for its facilities, with $500,000 to be used for equipment, materials and logistics for a rapid prototyping pilot line to create product and train a work force for American PPE manufacturers.
And a $5.3 million grant will go to Gaston County to construct an incubator and extrusion center for advanced fibers for the Gaston College Textile Technology Center, according to college president Dr. John Hauser.
“I’m excited about this new initiative and the building of a new fiber innovation center,” Hauser said this week. “Over the years, the Gaston College Textile Technology Center and the Catawba Valley Community College Manufacturing Solutions Center have always worked collaboratively on projects but were limited by needing additional equipment, space, funding and other resources. Now we have an opportunity to expand our expertise to produce high-quality products to benefit our communities. Our city and county partners are strongly behind this project. They will assist us in building an incubator business that will provide a space and the resources to engage new entrepreneurs and small businesses to manufacture and distribute PPE products. This will mean growth of new businesses and jobs in our community.”
Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, CVCC’s president, agreed.
“The manufacturing solutions center looks forward to working with Gaston College’s TTC in developing new, advanced fabrics that will better protect our medical and essential workers,” said Hinshaw. “This new funding will help us expand our operations and create more high-demand, well-paying jobs in our region. This level of collaboration and partnership will serve as a model for the future, so that we can better meet the needs of economic and work force development by leveraging the strength of both Gaston College and Catawba Valley Community College.”
Since the start of said virus’s related restrictions mandated by many governors across America, hospitals and emergency care clinics in North Carolina and around the country have experienced shortages of PPE. Unfortunately, some 96 percent of all PPE supplies were manufactured outside America. In addition, medical personnel and others wearing masks––particularly N-95 and cloth face masks––for long periods of time have for some months now been experiencing “maskne,”––acne or other skin irritations that stem from wearing the masks. A better-quality product needed to be developed.
In response to this and related COVID-19 product needs, companies quickly turned to the manufacturing solutions center and the textile technology center for product research, testing and development to produce diagnostic test kits and create fabrics for innovative PPE, such as advanced face mask coverings, shields and protective gowns. But in order to develop and manufacture these better products, the two centers discovered they needed additional space, more specialized equipment and resources. The funding from the state legislature will help to meet those needs, according to Sam Buff of Lincolnton, the textile technology center’s director.
“In the midst of our COVID response, Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Hauser immediately recognized the need for a focus on advanced fiber research and development,” said Buff, “and both have been instrumental in advancing the COVID response at our centers.”