Three medical workers in protective equipment making hearts with their hands.
Medical workers with Faulkner Plastics face shields.

Warrington alumnus transitions plastics company to make face shields amid COVID-19 pandemic

Before the coronavirus asserted its grasp on the world, a normal day for Joseph McCabe (BSBA ’10) would have been centered around managing the team at Hialeah-based Faulkner Plastics.

Stacks of plastic face shields made by Faulkner Plastics at their warehouse.

Face shields made by Faulkner Plastics.

In his role as Vice President of the 55-year-old, family-owned company, he oversaw the production and distribution of plastic products, specifically in stock shapes like sheets, rods and tubes. Faulkner Plastics specialized in both distributing a variety of plastic commodities to local and regional businesses as well as fabricating custom-made pieces designed exclusively for client needs.

“At any given time, we may be making a single piece of custom furniture for a high-end interior designer, while on the other side of the shop we are producing thousands of cosmetic displays for a top cosmetic brand,” McCabe said.

But like many people around the world, his ‘normal day’ changed dramatically when COVID-19 became a pandemic.

“The largest industries served via our traditional business model are the event production industry, the film production industry and retail environment fixturing/display industry – needless to say, some of the hardest hit sectors during this catastrophe,” he said. “We saw our business drying up fast with many of our customers shuttering and furloughing.”

While spending the weekend with his eyes glued to the heartbreaking news cycle, McCabe noticed footage of face shields and other protective barriers fashioned from plastic sheets, much like those that he had in stock at his facility. It was then that McCabe came up with an idea he hoped would help his business survive.

Wide-view of a warehouse of workers producing plastic face shields

The Faulkner Plastics team working diligently to produce face shields.

“I went to work Monday morning thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have much work, and I have a bunch of PETG sheet in stock (the material most commonly used for medical face shields). Let’s design one!’” he said. “I challenged some coworkers to a design competition – and in full disclosure, my design failed miserably – but our production manager came up with what is essentially our final product on the first shot.”

Luckily, the simple design has been well received by first responders and non-essential workers alike, and the production switch proved pretty straightforward. With nearly all of the needed materials on-hand and machine production within the company’s scope, the team hit the ground running.

Since Faulkner Plastics made the shift to face shield production in mid-March, McCabe estimates they’ve produced about 55,000 pieces, and have shipped 48,000 across the country, fulfilling orders placed online. McCabe is confident that the company can produce another 130,000 face shields with the material on hand.

Faulkner Plastics employees cheering for medical workers at their face shield drive-thru

The Faulkner Plastics team cheering for local medical workers as they pick up their free face shields.

“The challenge really has been managing the explosion in demand,” he said. “We were genuinely just trying to bridge the gap, cover our nut and keep our 25-plus dear employees (and ourselves!) above water financially.”

Both large public services, including municipalities, police departments, fire departments, and local hospitals and healthcare facilities, and private citizens have purchased face shields from Faulkner Plastics. While McCabe is glad to have found a way to keep his business running and provide a desperately needed product, he’s most proud of being able to now turn his attention to giving face shields to those in need. 

“We have done some work already with private donors and we are in talks with some local charities as well, but perhaps most excitingly, just today we did our first public donation of actual face shields,” he said. “We donated 375 shields to individual employees of the major hospital closest to our facility, Palmetto General Hospital.”

The team created a drive-thru at which hospital employees showed their employee badge to receive two face shields, in addition to a special surprise.

“We turned the drive-thru exit into a car parade with our employees lining the street holding thank you signs and cheering,” McCabe said. “It was a wonderful experience, and we hope to do more like it soon.”