How a Ball Chain Manufacturer Pivoted To Supplying KN95 Masks During The Pandemic
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The relationship arose in a most unexpected way. In late March, the Westchester County Association (WCA), a local business advocacy group in New York, needed urgent assistance. The COVID-19 pandemic was growing exponentially. Hospitals and frontline workers were in dire need of protective masks. Out of desperation, the WCA reached out to contacts at Ball Chain Manufacturing Co., Inc., the Westchester-based manufacturer with a long history of helping others in times of need.
Initially, due to the limitations of their machinery, the answer from Ball Chain executives was quick. “Sorry, we can’t help you.” Then, thoughts turned to World War II. Newly formed Ball Chain was by no means in the airplane industry, but it had shifted production to manufacture tooling for the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane during the war effort.
To consider pivoting the company’s efforts successfully again, the company would need to activate its well-established international supply chain. Most importantly, Ball Chain would insist on following the simple rule that has defined this American manufacturer since 1938: “Do it right.”
Reaching out to overseas business associates amid an exploding mask market revealed disturbing trends. “It was like the wild west,” according to members of the Taubner family who own and operate Ball Chain. “We’ve never seen so many vultures trying to take advantage of a situation.”
Eager to make a quick profit, Chinese companies were producing KN95 masks (marketed as providing 95% filtration efficiency) that only filtered 30-75% of particles. Ball Chain decided to search for an established manufacturer, a company with a history of producing quality products, like their own. One name kept popping up: Powecom.
“They had an amazing reputation and had been making high quality masks for years,” Ball Chain executives say of the Guangzhou-based operation. “And the Powecom management embraced the fact that we were also trustworthy.”
The result? In early April, Bona Fide Masks™ opened its virtual doors. The operation grew to specialize in the Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask. It was a product that Ball Chain could stand behind unequivocally. The Powecom KN95 Face Mask features non-woven polypropylene, melt-blown fabric, and ES hot-air cotton.
When the mask marketplace became rife with fraud, Bona Fide Masks™ added stickers to Powecom packages so customers could verify product authenticity. These types of extra steps have been critically important for American healthcare professionals during the pandemic, as the U.S. FDA has only authorized KN95s from about 14 Chinese manufacturers for use in healthcare settings, in accordance with CDC guidance.
The process, however, has been far from easy. Importing logistics can be challenging enough in normal times. During a pandemic, Ball Chain discovered, they can be a nightmare. Air freight carriers were inundated with orders, and there were airport personnel shortages. Some shipments of Powecom KN95s sat for weeks waiting to be processed.
After working into the wee hours on many occasions (and dealing with a twelve-hour time difference), Ball Chain’s efforts paid off. Millions of Powecom KN95s have found their way into local, regional, and even national medical centers through Bona Fide Masks™.
Faculty at one nearby college credited Bona Fide Masks™ with allowing them to return safely to school. Ball Chain remains committed to helping. The company heavily discounted masks for Portland firefighters battling the devastating Washington wildfires and is donating 5,000 masks to victims there.
Ball Chain takes some comfort in supplying a quality product during extraordinary times. “This has been one of the most rewarding business experiences in our history,” company executives say.
“We’ve received so many supportive e-mails, thanking us for bringing authentic masks to the market.” That type of feedback motivates the Ball Chain team to soldier on during the pandemic.
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