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Switching Gears at Lightning Speed: Firebolt's New Purpose during Pandemic
By: SM Sep 17, 2020 10:02:33 AM
Rehman, our accounting firm, published an article about Firebolt's transformation to producing PPE at the start of COVID-19.
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued Michigan’s initial stay-at-home order on March 24 in response to the global pandemic, Wixom-based manufacturer Firebolt Group shuttered operations along with so many other businesses across the state.
But the 15-year-old company, which is known for its cutting-edge LED signs and innovative digital display products for many top brands, wasn’t down for long – the team quickly formed plans to help their community by manufacturing something else entirely.
“Within 24 hours, we had developed our own face shield prototype,” said Brian Sciackitano, Firebolt Group’s chief operating officer, of the business’ decision to pivot toward creating in-demand personal protection equipment, or PPE.
“Nobody really knew what to expect at first,” he acknowledged. “There were open source designs shared through online communities we used as a starting point. Little did we know that we actually produced a premium version face shield. Most models were disposable after one-time use. Ours are made using a thicker material, which can be cleaned and re-used.”
The Firebolt team determined they could make about 5,000 face shields for frontline healthcare workers with the 200 4-by-8 feet sheets of polycarbonate on their shelves.
By that next weekend, Firebolt installed a new assembly line featuring stations six feet apart from one another. And on April 1, just a week after closing their LED sign operation, the company reopened to produce the face shields.
“It took off and away we went,” said Sciackitano, adding that during this time he was able to eventually bring back 75% of his workforce.
His team manufactured some 25,000 face shields in the month of April alone.
Pivoting to PPE
Before long, Firebolt began making other PPE products, including self-standing counter distance guards – barriers between store customers and staff – and an ear saver accessory, which protects an individual’s ears from pain and discomfort associated with wearing a mask.
And when Ford and GE Health began production of 50,000 ventilators, Firebolt offered to assist in the effort by providing necessary side plate CNC fabrication.
“I am so impressed with the team. They’re saving lives right now,” Sciackitano said. “We’re contributing to something amazing.”
Along this journey, Philip Ochtman, Firebolt CEO, along with Sciackitano and the rest of the executive team, continued to think outside of the box and adapt their business operations during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, an idea rose to the top: why not meet this need for PPE and related in-demand services for businesses as part of a new arm of Firebolt Group?
“We have innovation meetings weekly, with the sales team and the engineers,” Sciackitano said. “We knew we needed to prepare for the new normal, so any way we could contribute, we wanted to do that.”
The Firebolt team also worked closely with their advisory team at Rehmann during this transition.
“We must applaud the team at Rehmann that helped us navigate through a rapidly changing environment, with programs available to help our company make the proper decisions throughout the process,” said Kimberly Perrigan, Firebolt’s chief financial officer.
Rehmann has helped empower Firebolt’s purpose since the company’s start-up days, supporting its global expansion, product line transitions and all other strategic milestones along the way, said Rehmann Principal Chris Sing.
“Whether it is by nominating Firebolt as a Michigan Top 50 Business to Watch or optimizing their stimulus funding, Firebolt is always on Rehmann’s mind. What’s important to Firebolt, is important to Rehmann,” Sing said. “We couldn’t be prouder to showcase Firebolt’s critical contributions to the health and safety of our community during this pandemic.”
In addition to continuing its LED sign manufacturing business – Firebolt reopened these operations mid-May – Firebolt Health was created to “bring people safely together anywhere.” Products include face shields, ear saver mask accessory and countertop screens. Digital services, meanwhile, include an SMS virtual line platform for customers, a contactless check-in screening platform and virtual event system.
The contactless check-in service came about following Firebolt’s own concern about ensuring the safety of employees as they returned to the workplace. This technology, created by Firebolt’s software development team, includes online pre-screening with a mobile pass and an onsite temperature check. All data collected is securely stored for record-keeping.
Transforming the Firebolt manufacturing plant to produce products that are helping all frontline workers, from those in healthcare and law enforcement to cleaning staff and grocery store workers, is extremely gratifying for the Firebolt team.
“I am extremely proud of the team’s quick thinking and willingness to help at a time when there was so much uncertainty,” Ochtman said. “We want to make sure we do our part to ensure that everyone can get back to work safely. And our solutions are designed to do just that.”
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