One might think Coosa County is worlds away from medical technology hubs but it’s right in the middle of the technological fight against the coronavirus.
AmTech has been manufacturing wiring components for ventilators for Zoll Medical at a rate of about 600 units per month. Zoll is hoping to make 10,000 ventilators per month during the COVID-19 crisis and has enlisted the help of AmTech to meet the demand.
“There is a shortage of ventilators,” AmTech vice president of sales Dan Meeks said. “We make four different sub-assemblies for them. The normal order is enough to make about 600 to 700 ventilators a month. We are now ramping up to build 2,500 per week.”
AmTech assistant production manager Matt Taunton said AmTech’s employees are up to the task and are seeking more team members to help.
“With the crisis our country is in, we’ve got to get our numbers up,” Taunton said. “It’s very important.”
According to the Alabama Hospital Association, there are only 1,344 ventilators in the state and 546 on average are in use on a given day.
COVID-19 patients could easily take the excess of 800 in the state. According to Zoll, AmTech’s ventilators have primarily been used by the Department of Defense for the last 10 years but is ramping up production to help battle the coronavirus.
It’s a task employees at AmTech are happy to help with. AmTech director of human resources Mallory Gaston, production manager Perry Moore and Taunton are looking to hire about 30 more employees to meet the demand and are proud of the employees they currently have.
“We have some good folks who can do it,” Taunton said. “They’re getting it done. We just need some more folks.”
Susan Wyatt has been with AmTech for 13 years and is project leader on the Zoll order. She inspects and performs quality control tests on each and every part shipped to help construct ventilators.
“It’s a privilege to do this,” Wyatt said. “I’m happy to help.”
Heather Allen has only been with AmTech for a few months. Allen said she was unfamiliar with AmTech prior to working there.
“I didn’t know what a lot of this was until this came about,” Allen said.
But Allen is pleased to be part of the team.
“I’m glad we’re the ones doing it,” Allen said. “It’s an honor.”
The work is tedious and demands attention.
“It’s a tough skill set we are looking for,” Moore said.
The parts are small and one might think they require small hands. Moore seems to think that way but David Robinson has been with AmTech for 12 years. At 6-foot-plus tall with hands to match, one might think Robinson’s hands are too big to handle wire as small as thread. But Robinson has mastered soldering, according to Moore and Taunton.
“He can work on many parts in this plant,” Taunton said. “The biggest guy here works on our smallest parts.”
Moore and Taunton said soldering small wire could often be hard as the temperature required to melt the solder is hot enough to melt its delicate insulation. For Robinson it’s no issue.
“It’s a feeling to me,” Robinson said. “The flux is the trick otherwise the heat has the tendency to melt things. If you are not trained, you will burn it up.”
The days can be long and with the new order Gaston expects days to be at least 10 hours at five or six days per week.
“You are going to be sitting all day,” Gaston said of most employees who work on the ventilator project. “It is task and detail-oriented.”
AmTech is not new to Alexander City. Since 2005 it has been just across the county line in Coosa County on Highway 22.
AmTech builds numerous custom wiring harnesses.
“The ones for Malibu boats can circle my office,” Gaston said.
With questions about the economy, Malibu boats, who manufactures Axis, Cobalt and Pursuit boats, has stopped production and the need for wiring harnesses for its products.
“They are shutting down because of COVID-19 but we are confident they will return to manufacturing,” Meeks said.
The slowdown in one market segment has allowed AmTech to shift to other markets.
“We have the ability to shift people around,” Meeks said. “We pride ourselves on being responsive to conditions.”
The company has been working with Zoll for years on many different medical products.
“They’re our largest customer,” Meeks said. We need to focus on ventilators for now.”
Zoll is happy AmTech is in its supplier network as it ramps up production.
“Ventilators are complex, integrated medical devices comprising hundreds of individually tested parts,” Zoll CEO Jon Rennert said in a statement. “We have always strived to build the highest-quality portable ventilators on the market. We are now also focused on volume.”
Robinson is happy to be a part of the team making a difference in this time of need.
“It’s helping people,” Robinson said. “It’s helping keep people alive — that’s the important thing.”