Aerospace parts manufacturer S.S. White Technologies harnesses its design and production expertise to make and donate cloth masks to protect against COVID-19

May 13, 2020

SEMINOLE, Fla., - S.S. White Technologies, a leader in the design and manufacture of flexible shafts and related assemblies, has shown its creative and fighting spirits by setting up a quick production line to make face masks and distribute them free of cost. S.S. White Technologies makes components for aircraft systems. Its parts are used in 95% of all the airplanes in the world. Its subsidiary, SHUKLA Medical, manufactures orthopedic instruments.

Its 125 employees have known S.S. White for its progressive management and its family-like environment. And it’s no wonder. The owner, president of this historical company (it was founded in 1844) was hired as a factory worker 47 years ago. Then, 32 years ago, the worker purchased the factory and became the president of the company. President Rahul Shukla says, “I have never forgotten my roots and I think of every employee as a member of my family.”

The management stayed a step ahead of the worsening crisis of COVID-19. When the total cases reached only 4,000, Mr. Shukla called a general meeting and told all employees that things will get much worse soon. Three weeks ago, the management rearranged the workspaces to create a minimum of six feet of distance between workstations. They allowed non-manufacturing workers to work from home, broke a single shift into three shifts and announced an appreciation bonus of $30 per day for all production workers. The company quickly changed all faucets and fixtures in all the restrooms so that employees do not need to touch handles, faucets or towel dispensers. The company installed foot pedals on the doors so employees do not have to touch the door handles. They revised their badge reader system, which allows employees to clock in and out, to be hands-free through their proprietary software. They installed additional hand sanitizers and purchased a large supply of disposable gloves. Purchasing the masks proved to be a problem. Amazon did not have them; eBay did not have them. The management knew if the governor issued a stay-at-home order, the company would be required to stay open because they manufacture critical aerospace and automotive parts as well as medical products. Therefore, it was important to have facemasks for the protection of employees who need to come to work.

It soon became evident that masks were not available and it would not be fair to compete for masks with medical professionals who need them more. Rather than throw his hands up in despair, the president of S.S. White called the head of operations and HR Manager and said, "Our engineers can design intricate medical instruments and aerospace parts. Why can't they quickly design washable cloth masks?" VP, Subra Naglapura, agreed. HR Manager, Sheryl Sheppard, was asked to head the project. Design Engineer, Brian Servedio, whose expertise is in making metal instruments to extract worn out orthopedic implants, got on his CAD software and started cranking out designs. It took only a half-day to come up with a design for a washable, reusable mask with creative nuances.

In the meantime, Ms. Sheppard sent an email to employees asking for workers who wanted to work on this project. She was looking for three people; fifteen came forward to work on the project. Drawings, Work Instructions and Bill of Materials were prepared in hours. Rahul Shukla instructed the team to obtain as much raw material and machinery as possible. Orders were placed for sewing machines, fabric, thread, labels, and filtering material. Templates and toolings were quickly designed. The company is well versed in expediting how to get raw material in a matter of days. Most material was received the next day.

Mr. Rahul Shukla had thrown the challenge to his team to design the masks and set up production lines. Within just a few days, five production lines were up and running in the cafeteria. The masks will be supplied at no cost, first to their 125 employees, then for the employees’ immediate families, then to any local medical organization that requests it, and then for employees of other local manufacturers.

"We know how to design and manufacture complex aerospace and medical parts. Making masks is child's play for our team", said VP Subra Naglapura. Sheryl Sheppard, the project leader said, “everyone on the mask team, (she calls them Mask-ateers) is excited to be contributing to this huge crisis in our small way."

Mayor Leslie Waters, of Seminole, Florida, the city in which S.S. White is headquartered, commented “S.S. White is to be lauded for their efforts. Mr. Shukla, S.S. White President, is a true leader in our community.” Indeed, his exceptional leadership is well-known in the global aerospace industry.

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