In the pandemic, Manchester manufacturer finds a niche making material for masks in high demand
October 1, 2020
Lydall Inc., a Manchester-based manufacturer of air filtration and other materials, has established a market niche making a component of critically needed masks.
The company that began in 1869 as a manufacturer of knitting needles joins other businesses finding a path to sales and profit as they fight the coronavirus.
“From the moment COVID hit in China we were working hard to produce every ounce we were capable of,” Chief Executive Officer Sara Greenstein said. “COVID was a wake-up call for governments around the world that the products and materials they need … to do the job weren’t readily available.”
The company makes fine fiber known as meltblown filtration media, a key component of N95 respirators, a European equivalent and surgical masks. Its manufacturing emphasizes the need for local production, operating plants and research sites in New Hampshire, France and elsewhere.
At the outset of the coronavirus, engineers and others collaborated quickly to master the chemistry and manufacturing process needed to make hundreds of millions of masks, Greenstein said. Lydall, which received $13.5 million from the U.S. Defense Department, makes the filtration media placed in the middle of three layers that make up an N95 respirator mask and surgical mask.
Meltblowing is the manufacturing process that turns plastic into a mesh in N95 masks, blocking tiny particles, including viruses. The first of two production lines in Rochester, New Hampshire, will be operating by the end of the year and the other will be running next year.
“We will never again in this country be caught flat-footed,” Greenstein said.
The product is a boon to Lydall, which faces “historic declines” in the automotive industry, she told investor analysts in July as Lydall released its second-quarter financial results.
Net sales of $146.2 million in the April-June quarter fell more than one-third from the same period last year, due primarily to the shutdown of car manufacturing due to COVID-19 and weaker industrial demand, Lydall said.
However, Lydall said continued strong demand for filtration products should offset downturns in other businesses, with meltblown media sales for N95 and surgical masks contributing sales of $10 million to $12 million in the second half of 2020.
Lydall’s exposure to the automotive market is in its technical nonwoven materials and products with applications in air pollution control, home appliance, the automotive industry and other areas. And its thermal acoustical business makes engineered products for noise and heat abatement in products found primarily in underbody and under hood applications in vehicles.
Greenstein said in addition to a strong outlook for personal protective equipment, “significant demand” is emerging for high-efficiency filtration products for indoor spaces. New York state, for example, announced recently that government buildings and large malls should not reopen until such filters are installed. Lydall is well-positioned to meet the demand, she said.
The pandemic has damaged many businesses struggling to return to pre-COVID sales and profitability after being shut on government orders to slow the spread of the lethal virus. Some businesses will never reopen.
Other businesses discovered a need for a product, manufactured it and made money “in ways you wouldn’t normally expect,” said Colin Cooper, Connecticut’s chief manufacturing officer.
From biomedical companies helping find treatments and vaccines to cleaning materials to food companies catering to customers homebound when restaurants were closed, numerous businesses have thrived in the pandemic, he said.
Biomedical companies, he said, are “rocking and rolling.” Other companies that that serve a range of industries were diverse enough to survive, Cooper said. For example, a Wallingford chemical manufacturer that lost business in the automotive industry shifted to paints and additives and as a result is “really booming,” Cooper said.
Greenstein told industry analysts in July that long-term contracts and demand will continue to generate sales of masks using meltblown media even after a vaccine leads to the dissipation of COVID-19. Researchers also are looking to create new air filtration applications for spaces and places, she said.
In the meantime, Greenstein said she expects “wildcards that might come” this year, requiring Lydall to flex its production to adapt to customer needs and a stables supply chain.
Stephen Singer can be reached at email@example.com.