corona virus

The Trenchless Industry & COVID-19

The City of Wuhan, China is commonly referenced as the epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic. A city of more than 11 million people, it is also a manufacturing hub for the country. One trenchless company located in Wuhan has experienced firsthand living and working in a city that first implemented the quarantine to slow the devastating consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.

EasySight is a pipe inspection and rehabilitation producer based in Wuhan; the company was established by Bill Zheng in 2010. We reached out to the company to learn how company officials coped with and continued to work through during the pandemic as the country operated under quarantine from January until the start of April. Water and wastewater work did not stop, they say.

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“The whole city was locked down and everyone stayed at home at that time,” says EasySight overseas sales manager Wendy Pei. “The quarantine began Jan. 23 and ended on April 8. The water and wastewater work never stopped during that time. EasySight played an important role in this essential industry during quarantine time, not only providing equipment but doing inspection and rehabilitation work.”

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EasySight employs more than 200 workers. The company manufactures UV light curing systems, as well as HD CCTV inspection robots and crawlers, among other technology. When China first implemented its stay-at-home lockdown, EasySight initially closed the facility but remained open, working remotely from their homes.

“[We closed] for one month [and]everyone worked from home,” Pei says. “After the first month, there were one or two workers taking turns in the office for [emergency work.]. They all wore masks and disinfected the office.”

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Pei describes the trenchless market in China before the quarantine as being quite strong, noting that in the past year, EasySight had sold more than 800 inspection systems and enjoyed a large portion of the Chinese market. The coronavirus has impacted the trenchless work, at least in the short-term, she says.

“COVID-19 did have a temporary impact on the trenchless market [because] of the quarantine. But we better understand how it is to keep the city running smoothly,” she says, noting that EasySight is projecting a boost in demand.

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Since the quarantine has been lifted, the country’s economy has reopened and the country is returning to its “new normal” as best as it can — with an abundance of caution. “Wuhan is almost back to normal,” Pei says. “Everyone who lives here is still very cautious and tries not [to] gather. Everyone wears a mask when not [in their homes.]”

She adds, “Our co-workers are all doing well now. EasySight business is basically back to normal.”

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Every dark cloud houses a silver lining. What silver lining has EasySight found working during and after the pandemic quarantine? Expanding beyond its Wuhan headquarters. “Never put all [your] eggs in one basket,” says Zheng. “In the new year, we will consider setting up more branch offices and production sites in other cities in China, [as well as having] more dealers in the international market.”

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Zheng also notes that everyone needs to do their part to help prevent the coronavirus from re-emerging to its devastating results. “As ordinary citizens, to protect ourselves well is to protect other people and our country,” he says. “Everyone needs to improve their immunity and also pay attention to environmental protections and hygiene. [Professionally,] as an enterprise, [we need] to keep innovating, optimize management and diversify development.”

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Trenchless Companies Pitch in

As the pandemic unfolded in the United States, many manufacturing companies around North America quickly pivoted from making their specialty products and technology to making medical equipment and supplies, such as ventilator parts and face mask gear. Some turned their manufacturing facilities into hand sanitizer producers. Pitching in during times of crisis is woven in our DNA; this pandemic proved to be no different. Challenge accepted.

Trenchless companies have also rolled up their proverbial sleeves to answer the call to help out. Epoxtec, a maker of epoxy coatings, repurposed its south Florida manufacturing facility to make much-needed hand sanitizer. Initially wanting to help its local community, including hospitals and first responders, Epoxytec owners Michael and Silvia Caputi found out that others wanted to buy their new product — called ManoCare.

Vortex Companies also joined in on the anti-bacterial hand sanitizer supply chain, producing Crew Care, described as the first in a complete line of crew health and safety-related products. “The world will change after this and so will our attitude and behavior toward on-the-job safety preparedness. Crew Care will help support this,” stated Vortex Companies CEO Mike Vellano.

Vortex’s goal is to target several key healthcare institutions where Crew Care hand sanitizer will be donated. Front line healthcare workers face the highest risk and there continues to be an ongoing shortage of this product. “We can help alleviate some of that by donating what we can in high impact areas. We are also making Crew Care available to our strategic partners in an effort to address supply shortages in essential sectors of the construction industry,” says Vellano.

Vermeer Corp. partnered with RP America to make face shields for healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 on the front lines at Pella Regional Health Center in Iowa. Using cutting-edge 3D printing technology at its Pella, Iowa campus, Vermeer successfully worked with hospital officials to determine the best design of a visor piece for use on the face shield. The company then worked alongside local 3D printer owners in an effort to spur even more production of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Vermeer CEO Jason Andringa was a guest on the Trenchless Technology Podcast in April and described the feeling of pride workers experienced in helping out during the pandemic.

“Team members are obviously very proud and happy that Vermeer can repurpose some of the tools that we have to help in this crisis,” says Andringa.

He also details how Vermeer in the United States got up and close and personal with the novel coronavirus earlier this year with its company in China. The seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent to Vermeer officials when the company’s operation in Tianjin, China, was forced to shut down earlier this year as part of a lockdown in the region.

“We took the time to get our ducks in row and were one of the first manufacturing companies in our region to reopen,” Andringa says on Podcast. “[There were] things learned there that w

e have definitely implemented here.”In order to reopen, Vermeer officials were required to implement several measures, from distribution of facemasks and PPE to coordination of employee temperature readings. Thanks to its prompt and successful response, Vermeer was one of the first companies in Tianjin to open up once government officials lifted the lockdown.

RELATED: COVID-19’s Impact on the Trenchless Industry

BASF Corp., located in Washington, New Jersey, jumped in to help, as well. The company is providing the state of New Jersey and New York with hand sanitizer manufactured at the company’s facility in Washington, New Jersey free of charge. The sanitizing product will help meet the increased demands needed to safely combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

BASF does not regularly produce hand sanitizer at the Washington location, but a team of BASF scientists and engineers worked on a compressed timeline to develop a safe and high-quality product.

“Our dedicated team has been working tirelessly to launch this production line to help ease the critical shortage of disinfecting agent needed to fight COVID-19,” says Daniele Piergentili, vice president, BASF Home and Personal Care, North America.

The Washington facility is the first BASF location in the United States to supply hand sanitizer. The facility will produce approximately 3,500 gallons of hand sanitizer to be distributed to health care systems and government agencies in New Jersey and New York, and other U.S. BASF locations.

BASF is also manufacturing hand sanitizer in Wyandotte, Michigan and donating to Ohio and Michigan; BASF is also working in Windsor, Ontario donating in Canada.

Alchemy Spetec is also manufacturing hand sanitizer.

RELATED: Listen to the Trenchless Technology Podcast here.

Seeing manufacturers step up in times of crisis does not surprise Association of Equipment Manufacturers president Dennis Slater, a guest on the May 5, Trenchless Technology Podcast. He says that is what manufacturers do — they make things.

“Tells you what kind of manufacturers they are,” Slater says on the Podcast. “Many are in small communities…cornerstones of these communities. The idea that they would sit on the sidelines because they couldn’t sell equipment or equipment sales are down…that was never going to happen.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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