A young additive manufacturing company based in Tonawanda welcomed Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to their facility Monday, to show her an operation which is making personal protective equipment that's being used by many first responders serving on the front lines of the COVID pandemic.
Innosek is tucked away inside an industrial building along Main Street in the City of Tonawanda. As co-founders Brian Bischoff and John Kappel welcomed their special guest outside, about a half-dozen part-time employees inside were moving among the more than two dozen 3D printers that are used to create components for the face shields the company has been manufacturing.
"On peak of what we were doing, we were probably getting out maybe 300, 400, 500 daily," said Kappel.
Many of the units have been distributed to medical workers and first responders throughout the nation. Some, however, are donated by the company to local first responders.
Bischoff and Kappel roomed together at the University at Buffalo and maintained their friendship after graduation. Kappel moved to Boston and worked as a manager for a large retail chain but, he explained, he decided that wasn't for him and moved back to Western New York. Bischoff, meanwhile, explained that he taught himself 3D printing about six years ago. While in college, he had an idea for an invention but lacked the money and the connections to realize his idea, but learned to make it once he got the hang of 3D printing.
Now, they're manufacturing components for larger products as well as smaller novelty or promotional items. Among them were plastic chicken wings featuring the company name. They also created a customized blue bison key chain with Lt. Gov. Hochul's name as a present to their guest.
Hochul praised the company for joining the effort to manufacture personal protective equipment, recalling the need to rely on foreign-made PPE products in the earliest weeks of the pandemic and the competition among states to acquire the precious units.
After suggesting other states are finding themselves with rising coronavirus case numbers because they didn't follow New York's strategy, Hochul hinted that Innosek will be kept quite busy.
"And now those states are in need of the equipment that places like this are making, so I think they're gonna be busy for a long time, particularly with the COVID-related products that are manufactured right here in Western New York," she said.
The company is looking to expand, but both co-founders say they'll do it carefully.
"Being a younger company, we were the investors. We don't have outside investors," Bischoff said. "We have to spend every dollar smart. So really, we're not trying to expand too fast because I've seen people expand way too fast, and then it bit them in the butt and they've had to shut down."