Jonathan has worked at Superfeet for five years and serves as Director of Operations for the Superfeet and Flowbuilt facilities. As the COVID-19 outbreak started in the Pacific Northwest and critical shortages of PPE came to light, Jonathan and the team got to work for the companies’ quick pivot from insoles to PAPR hoods.
Tell us about early on in this pandemic, when Superfeet first started talking about making PPE.
I got a phone call from our Chief Marketing Officer, Eric [Hayes] on a Friday night, he told me about the plan to produce PPE, a bit about the specs and said, “Let’s get to work.” I worked for a solid week, everyday and evening, on sourcing materials to be able produce PPE, specifically, PAPR Hoods.
I made cold calls looking for materials like a polycarbonate or Lexan — for about four days, for long hours a day, until we had everything secured. I’d get the supplier on the phone, confirm proper materials, patch in our partner Tim [Williamson, CEO of Pioneer Aerofab], make sure everything was correct, have the vendor set us up with an account, and then wire them money to secure the product then and there. Because if we hung up, we knew we would have lost it to the next caller.
My number one goal for sourcing was to keep it domestic, knowing those materials would get to our facility as quickly as possible. Being able to support businesses domestically was something important to me as well.
Finding materials was a major challenge, but how about the internal work that needed to be done? Retooling machinery, communicating and training staff, etc.?
Yes, that was really fun. There are about five or six total 3D-printed parts that hook onto the PAPR hoods. There is a constant, threaded piece and then four other adapter types that hook into different airflow systems used at different hospitals across the country. Once the team had that one constant threaded piece design work finalized, we began working on the other four parts. It took us about a week, week-and-a-half, to get all the design files locked and loaded so we could begin mass productions. We have been printing nonstop, 7-days-a-week for a month and a half now.
To produce the volume of parts we need we’re now working with JawsTec, in American Falls, Idaho, and Jabil, as print service providers to help with the 3D printing.
Which do you think is harder, making 3D-printing insoles or PAPR Hoods?
Insoles. When we are doing custom insoles there are a lot more variables that go into printing just one. It is a customized piece that is based off measurements collected from scanning each individual foot, from a gait analysis and pressure plates. That information goes into an algorithm that was built to give the best fit and design for that individual. So when we're doing insoles, we’re literally doing one-offs for each person.
But the knowledge we have from printing insoles greatly helped us be able to rapidly iterate PAPR hood parts and move to mass production rapidly.
How has this project been used to keep the 100% employee-owned team at Superfeet moving forward?
This is not a project we are looking to capitalize off. It is about getting out there and answering a real and immediate need in our local community. It is keeping our team engaged and working, with an added benefit of offsetting overhead.
Flowbuilt is handling the 3D printing side of this project, while the final assembly and shipment are happening at Superfeet. Having both groups of workers and their respective skill sets has made it possible for us to pull this off. Without one or the other it would be very difficult, if not impossible.
How are you staying inspired and motivated?
I grew up in the medical world with my parents both practicing for 20-30 years. My sister-in-law currently works as a Physician Assistant in the ER on the east side of the [Washington] state. I know when hospitals need something, they need it right away, and they need it to work.
We are doing great work and everybody at Superfeet has a great sense of pride. That’s what really fuels my fire. The fact I can make an impact for multiple people. I feel the same way about making insoles. We’re adding support and comfort and changing people’s lives.
I’d work day and night, for the rest of my life knowing I can have an impact like this. I’ll do anything I can to help protect jobs and help other people.