Two brothers in Ludington decided to do their part for disease prevention.
Star Shields, a subsidiary of Star Ingenuity, located on U.S. 10 in Pere Marquette Township is manufacturing mitigation safety shields to meet a rising demand for protective equipment.
Star Ingenuity, owned by Mike and Greg Malkowski, decided one month ago to switch the company from making airport security machines to the shields.
It was a natural transition for the company, according to Mike.
“We are a full engineering, manufacturing and fabrication shop,” he said. “We have a lot of experience in building guards and shields for the (Transport Security Administration).”
Star Ingenuity uses polycarbonate, rather than Plexiglas, to make the checkpoint scanning machines — the conveyors travelers place bags and personal items onto that are scanned by x-ray.
The polycarbonate doesn’t break like Plexiglas and is easy to disinfect, which makes it ideal for the shields, Mike said.
After seeing protective shields pop up at local gas stations, Mike and Greg knew they could develop a similar product for their current customers and any new ones who had a need.
“Originally it was just for the TSA, but it spread from there,” Greg said. “We were asking ourselves ‘What can we do?’ Even our wives asked if we could make ventilators. Basically (the shields) are the same products but modified to fit a need during this crisis.”
The website, Star Shields, was developed and launched in less than 24 hours.
“Like face shields, like ventilators, obviously we were way short on them and needed to build a lot of them fast, so if you use your imagination — all the restaurants, all the gas stations, all the hospitals, all the banks and all the airports … you can imagine how many of these are going to be needed,” Mike said.
The demand for shields has led to a shortage in materials.
“We ordered 51 sheets earlier in the week and we already have orders that use more than that,” Mike said.
Even as Mike and Greg spoke to the Daily News last Friday, they agreed to order a supplier’s remaining sheets of polycarbonate.
“That’s what’s happening,” Mike said after the exchange.
Since the decision to create shields, the pair have focused on manufacturing a product that will provide a long-term solution.
“We are focusing on a higher quality product … not something that will be thrown away in six months,” Mike said. “We are busy filling orders, but also focusing on development.”
Star Shields offers two standard shield products. One is made for a countertop, such as in retail, and the other is taller for in factories. The two shields can be ordered in a variety of sizes. Mike expects soon nearly 50 percent of the orders will be custom.
“Mitigation is the most important, but these businesses also care about aesthetics. It’s about function and fit,” Greg said.
“Our customers are looking for something that is both. They can put it in and it looks great, but if there comes a day when they can remove it, they want it easily removable without drill holes,” Mike said.
A unique feature in the shields is the communication portal.
“There isn’t a communication portal in the other shields I’ve seen. It’s noisy in those stores, so what I saw happen a couple different times was the customer couldn’t hear what the cashier was saying, so they leaned around the side of it and they talked. I thought to myself, you just defeated the whole purpose of having it there,” Mike explained.
The portal is a metal mesh filter which stops airborne particles, but allows sound.
“We spent some time developing (a portal) that would be compliant, so you’re not spreading germs through it. We are keeping it consistent to a N95 compliancy, or greater. That means if you test it for germs, it will stop 95 percent,” Mike said.
By early May, the brothers expect to be manufacturing 200 shields per week until the demand subsides, which Mike believes which won’t be for a long time.
“I expect there will be pressure from employees and customers to have these shields,” Mike said. “We are in a new realm. There is potential danger until there is a vaccine, which they are saying will take a year to 18 months. Some people are being proactive and protecting workers and the general public … but they are looking at it like it’s temporary.
“We have heard a lot of discussions from regulatory agencies — OSHA, Department of Health, FDA — that whenever there is a face-to-face interaction, there will have to be some protective measures put in place. It’s not set in stone, but we can see it coming.”
The company is currently working to add shields to the city hall in Ludington and has other customers lined up.
“Anywhere you can envision a face-to-face interaction, there is going to be a need for one,” Mike said.
Visit the company website, www.starsafetyshield.com, for information about ordering shields.