HOME / Upstate SC Blog / Upstate SC: A Manufacturing Powerhouse for Combating a Pandemic
Upstate SC Alliance Blog View all Posts

Upstate SC: A Manufacturing Powerhouse for Combating a Pandemic

June 1, 2020

If there’s any good to come from the COVID-19 crisis, heightened recognition of the role that manufacturing plays is at the top of the list – and with it, producers are exploring a return to the United States market.

As companies explore locations and partners for producing coronavirus response items — from PPE to medical devices to sanitation products — Upstate South Carolina is a production powerhouse that stands out as a leading location.

That’s why South Carolina is home to 1,033+ life science firms. And, in the last five years, life sciences companies have announced $660,058,451 in capital investment and 3,378 jobs within the Upstate. Is your company considering new business operations? Connect with the Upstate SC Alliance team for support and resources for your project.

A Formula for Success — In Crisis or In Calm

The ingredients to success are part of our DNA: a history of textile production, a rich array of advanced materials suppliers, engineering prowess, and 377+ automation and robotics companies, all located within the heart of the booming Southeast region, where 102 million people can be reached within a one-day drive.

Life science companies are thriving with support from statewide organizations such as SCBIO, the South Carolina Research Authority and its South Carolina Medical Device Alliance. All these, boosted by collaborative higher education partnerships at Clemson University, University of South Carolina, and Furman University, and nationally recognized technical training programs such as Apprenticeship Carolina and readySC.

The region’s strengths are also why life science giants choose to expand their operations here. Take Lonza’s Capsugel facility in Greenwood for example. In operation for 50 years, the facility manufactures empty capsules and finished dosage forms for the global biopharma and consumer health and nutrition markets. And in 2017, when Basel, Switzerland-based Lonza acquired Capsugel, they invested $46 million in the Upstate production facility, adding 50,000-square-feet of production space.

Responding to the Pandemic with Resolve, Innovation

From fast-tracking antimicrobial fabric production, to ramping up chemical disinfectants, Upstate companies responded to the pandemic’s challenges with innovation and resolve.

Standard Textile in Union developed a chemical finish that enables its textiles to be converted to medical gowns. Fibertex Nonwovens in Gray Court ran product trials for face masks, and it increased production of its antibacterial wipes distributed to value retailers. And Humimic Medical repurposed its manufacturing capacity to produce 80,000+ face shields.

Milliken, a Spartanburg-headquartered company with a 150+ year history of innovation, is another company at the forefront of providing solutions: the company leveraged its materials science expertise to manufacture fabrics for used in PPE gowns and headcovers for healthcare professionals.

These  textiles complement Milliken’s breakthrough BioSmart™ antimicrobial technology, which harnesses the power of bleach to kill up to 99.9% of common bacteria on contact and is used to manufacture scrubs, lab coats, and hospital privacy curtains.

Fibertex nonwovens

Fibertex Nonwovens responded to coronavirus by increasing production of sanitation wipes and running trials to produce face masks. (Photo by Fibertex Nonwovens)

Aligning Resources to Quickly Pivot

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) spoke with Jeff Morris, senior vice president of Protective Fabrics at Milliken, about the company’s shift. The company quickly worked to adapt existing products to meet PPE standards, and to get fabrics into production with a domestic network of cut and sew operations — all occurring within about a week’s time.

“As we move forward, there are a number of lessons industries can apply from this experience. You need to have diversity in your supply chain,” Morris said to NCTO. “You need to keep domestic manufacturing more viable. Furthermore, this has opened our eyes to the necessity of medical PPE at any time, something which inspires us to support both now and into the future. It is not always about the lowest price.”

Milliken retools for PPE fabric

Milliken’s new advanced medical fabrics and barriers are currently available and can be used to make gowns and headcovers for healthcare professionals. (Photo from Milliken)

Another Upstate manufacturing adaptation: Spartanburg-based companies Milliken and Contec Inc. joined together to mass-produce Contec Inc.’s Sporicidin brand disinfectant — used often to treat mold and water damage — which was qualified to kill the coronavirus.

“Spartanburg companies are rising to meet the global challenges brought on by COVID-19,” Halsey Cook, president and CEO of Milliken & Company, said in a release. “Partnering with Contec Inc. was a natural fit, and gave Milliken the opportunity to quickly reconfigure our manufacturing capabilities and rapidly solve problems for our customers and communities.”

Sporicidin production at Milliken began on Tuesday, May 12, 2020, after a record ramp-up of only four weeks. Typical similar partnerships require three to six months to arrange.

That’s what you find in the Upstate: an agile business environment where challenges are met with collaboration, a “can-do” attitude and advanced manufacturing strengths that enable companies to turn on a dime.

TOPICS: Manufacturing, Business Recruitment, Life Science