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May 7, 2020

BIW signs contract to build swab machines for Puritan Medical Products

Courtesy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Bath Iron Works has finalized its contract to make 30 machines that will help produce Puritan Medical Products swabs for COVID-19 testing at the Guilford company's new space in Pittsfield.

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works finalized a contract Wednesday with Puritan Medical Products, of Guilford, to deliver 30 industrial machines to help meet demand for COVID-19 testing components.

Puritan is leasing space in a 144,000-square-foot Pittsfield warehouse owned by Cianbro Corp. so the medical products maker can double its production of clinical swabs used in COVID-19 testing. Puritan is making about 18 million swabs a month, but will up its turnout to 40 million with the expansion next month to Pittsfield.

Besides space, the increased production requires building industrial machines to provide sterile packaging for each swab. The U.S. Air Force, which is coordinating contracts under the Defense Production Act, identified BIW as uniquely capable to perform the work within the necessary time frame, according to a BIW news release Wednesday.

A Massachusetts firm is making 10 more machines, Timothy Templet, Puritan executive vice president, said last week.

“BIW is able to devote engineering, design and production expertise to this important humanitarian project while remaining focused on our critical mission of building ships for the U.S. Navy,” said BIW President Dirk Lesko. “We are also leveraging a wide network of supplier relationships to quickly meet this acute need.”

Made possible by $75.5 million in Defense Production Act money included in the federal CARES Act, the expansion involves renovating the building Cianbro owns at 129 Main St. in Pittsfield. The building has been mostly empty since UTC Fire and Security moved out in 2015.

BIW will manufacture the industrial machines, using Puritan's design, at its machine shop and outfit fabrication facilities in Bath and Brunswick. Because of the quick timeframe, BIW will subcontract with 10 other Maine businesses, either to provide materials or to machine specialized parts. The subcontractors include General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in Saco, according to BIW.

Room to grow

Governors across the country have called for an increase in testing for the novel coronavirus, but medical officials have cited a shortage of swabs as one reason tests are not being produced faster. By mid-April, Puritan had about 320 employees on two 10-hour shifts, six days a week, making swabs as fast as possible, CFO Scott Wellman said at the time.

The production increase means that once the plant is up and running, Puritan will be making 10 million swabs a month more than what the federal government requested in mid-April. Puritan expects to hire 100 to 130 people in the coming weeks to work in the Pittsfield plant, which is expected to be operational in about a month.

Templet told Mainebiz last week that the new production plant will have the capability of manufacturing 40 million swabs a month, but will begin with 20 million as it gets up and running. Production in Guilford will continue as it has been.

With the federal grant allocation, Puritan had been looking for a location to expand, and Cianbro contacted the company about the building, Templet said. He told Mainebiz that Puritan will lease the space from Cianbro, which is renovating the space for Puritan's needs.

Templet said that Puritan will continue to operate in the new space once the crisis has abated. Despite a 44,000-square-foot addition in Guilford two years ago, the company was busting out of its 88,000-square-foot plant and expansion was necessary to increase production, Templet told Mainebiz last year.

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