From his Kingfisher, Okla., headquarters, NeoInsulation CEO Justin Mecklenburg anticipates a normal business slowdown during Spring and Summer. This time of year, fewer E&Ps, midstreamers and downstream operators tend to plan for the cold months ahead when vulnerable valves, pipes, fittings, tank batteries and heater/treaters need protection from wet and freezing conditions. That’s just the nature of the business, he’ll tell you. As one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of customized insulation products for the oil and gas industry, NeoInsulation hangs its hat on a track record of 3,000+ installations, zero freeze failures, and no company layoffs. That’s just the nature of Mecklenburg.
When March happened and the world’s collective attention suddenly shifted to the Coronavirus, Mecklenburg’s first priority became protecting his employees and their families across the company’s manufacturing facilities and field offices. Then something extraordinary happened. Between the current downtime at NeoInsulation, the ever-present hum of his sewing machines, and the critical need for face masks by local front-line responders, an idea quickly took shape. “I thought, what if we could make those?”
Mecklenburg and his director of manufacturing, Blake Burge, leaped on the possibility. The resources required to mass produce medical grade, filtered face masks were practically already in place. But there were hurdles right away. “We learned the company’s industrial sewing machines were too powerful for cotton fabric, so we purchased nine consumer machines and found an internet source for polypropylene filters. It was really important that we produce the professional-rated medical masks that offer proper filtration for protection. That’s what everyone has run out of,” Mecklenburg says.
At first, employees volunteered scraps and small bundles of tight-weave cotton from family members. Of the 35 employees at his manufacturing facility, Mecklenburg assigned 20 to the face mask line while the others continued producing insulation. More and more trips and phone calls to fabric stores followed, along with coordinating distribution with the city of Kingfisher of more than 2,000 masks to the community. In short order, Neo rolled out its first batch and is now manufacturing 1,000-2,000 masks every day.
To practice social distancing, workstations are positioned six feet apart. Employees sanitize hands and disinfect work areas every two hours. Everyone wears a mask and gloves. A great day is scoring enough fabric to make the next 24,000 masks.
Like they say about small towns, word gets around finger-snap quick and NeoInsulation has found itself in hot demand beyond the county line for the company’s face masks. All of which supports one of Mecklenburg’s most staunch determinations. “We’ve neither laid off nor furloughed a single employee—and we don’t intend to do so,” he says. “Producing face masks gives us an opportunity to help our community and keep our people employed at the same time. It’s a much-needed win-win in today’s world.”
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