Shawnee companies ramp up production of ventilation masks and valves to meet COVID-19 demand

Hans Rudolph, a Shawnee-based manufacturer of ventilation masks, has seen a spike in demand for its products in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy Hans Rudolph Inc.

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For two Shawnee companies making ventilation masks and other protective products has been their business model for years. But now these businesses are boosting production as demand for respiratory and protective gear skyrockets in the face of coronavirus.

Hans Rudolph Inc. designs and manufactures a range of masks and other respiratory products, including ventilator masks that help coronavirus patients in critical condition.

Everseal Gasket Inc. produces inhalation valves for reusable respirator masks, which healthcare workers wear over their faces to protect them from airborne particles and the COVID-19 virus. Everseal also makes gaskets and other products that are used for ventilation masks like the ones Hans Rudolph makes.

Located a few hundred yards from each other at West 83rd Street and K7 Highway, the two companies are juggling the rapid influx of orders with ensuring they keep workers safe, healthy and employed.

Here’s a look at the two companies’ contributions to the coronavirus response:

Hans Rudolph Inc.

It’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Hans Rudolph, as staff work to meet the demand for ventilation masks, said Nick Rudolph. Photo courtesy Hans Rudolph Inc.

As a manufacturer of medical devices for the respiratory industry, Hans Rudolph offers technical products for respiratory research and testing in addition to ventilation masks.

The company’s products are geared towards hospitalized patients, rather than personal protection equipment (like the N95 mask).

Nick Rudolph, sales and marketing manager at his family company, said their products are in demand as COVID-19 response ramps up.

“Currently, because of everything that’s been going on on a global scale, our ventilation masks are being utilized with ventilators out in the field to treat patients that unfortunately have come down with the coronavirus,” Rudolph said. “From an employee standpoint, it’s all hands on deck.”

Exact numbers weren’t ready available — and it may be too early to tell the full impact on business — but Rudolph said the company has already had “a significant bump” in product orders within the past month.

Hans Rudolph increased staffing to provide quick turnaround of orders, mostly pulling from the employees’ networks of family and friends who may be job insecure due to widespread layoffs.

“What’s interesting, at least to me: Because we do sell different products in different markets, all respiratory-based, we’ve seen an uptick in almost all of the markets,” Rudolph said, citing the need for masks in addition to clinical testing of new products.

Everseal Gasket Inc.

Tim Vos, vice president of Everseal Gasket Inc., said the company has seen significant demand for the valve, a vital part of reusable respirator masks made by other companies. Photo courtesy Everseal Gasket Inc.

A fabricator of flat materials, Everseal Gasket uses die cutting machines to make products sourced from a range of soft materials like rubber, cork, and plastics. The company’s products touch more than a dozen industries but for now, its focusing on valves for respirator masks.

Everseal-manufactured valves are made with polyisoprene material and are used in higher-end respirators like the 3M 6000 series. These differ from the typical N95 masks seen all over the news lately.

Each valve is about 1.25 inches in diameter, and each reusable respirator needs two of these valves to function. Valves are critical to the air filtration process in the respirators.

Once manufactured, Everseal ships valves to other companies which assemble the respirator masks. These companies are in St. Paul, Minnesota and Omaha, Nebraska, as well as China and Poland.

Every time a natural disaster occurs, like an earthquake or hurricane, Everseal sees a spike in business.

This time, it’s coronavirus.

Two valves are needed for air filtration within the reusable respirator masks made by 3M (pictured above). Everseal Gasket Inc. manufactures these valves and ships them to other companies which then assemble the masks. Photo courtesy Everseal Gasket Inc.

The company averages about 26 million valves annually but estimates that by May 2020 it will have shipped 17 million.

Everseal has also experienced an increase in orders for the gaskets it makes for ventilation masks. The company averages 5,000 gaskets a year; already, it has orders for 20,000 gaskets.

“Just knowing that we’re making a part that goes into those respirators, and especially people in the medical field, that they can be there to help out and not have to worry about inhaling anything like that, that’s really important to us here,” said Tim Vos, vice president of Everseal.

With the growing, widespread need for healthcare worker safety in response to COVID-19, these types of masks will likely be utilized to protect doctors, nurses and first responders from airborne particles and the coronavirus, Vos said.

“I think medical people are going to be getting this type of respirator rather than the throwaway ones,” Vos said. “When you get a letter from 3M saying that look, you’re an essential business and you need to keep making these parts for us, then you know that we’re in a pretty serious situation.”