On April 9, Barry Matties spoke with Travis Kelly, Isola president and CEO. Travis gave an update on Isola’s responses to the COVID-19 challenges in materials manufacturing.
Travis pointed out that Isola’s products fill a critical need in the switch to medical equipment manufacturing for ventilators and related products. He also spoke to the three keys to maintaining continuity of supply.
The new Isola facility in the Phoenix, Arizona, area is steadily coming up to speed, and Travis shared the latest news on that transition.
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Barry Matties: Today, I’m speaking with Travis Kelly, president and CEO of Isola. Isola is a global supplier, providing PCB manufacturers around the world with laminate and prepreg materials. Travis, the recent COVID-19 outbreak has impacted the supply chains around the world. Please share with our listeners how this has impacted our industry.
Travis Kelly: One thing we’ve been focused on is maintaining the continuity of supply from our vendors and continue to be 100% operational at all our global facilities. There are three key pillars that are very important that have allowed us to remain open, and I would imagine many of the other businesses within our industry. First and foremost, we have a diverse global supply chain that has allowed us to ensure we have the materials that we need to produce our laminate. At this point in time, it’s extremely important to have very close communication with our supply base, and that has been essential to the overall strategy around continuity of supply—making sure that we’re very transparent and collaborative relative to what we need and when we need it and as well as where we need it.
And then, as it pertains strictly to Isola, our global manufacturing footprint has allowed us to move and share raw materials as necessary to ensure we have the right materials in the right location. This is one thing that is very strategic to the way Isola operates; by having that global manufacturing footprint, we can share raw material across borders, and get the material where we need it at the right time.
Matties: What sort of trends are you seeing in the supply chain? Is there an increase in demand, or have you noticed a reduction in orders?
Kelly: Specific to Isola, we’ve seen a very large increase in demand. Part of that is the overall medical industry, and a lot of our laminate is used—especially when you get into the pandemic, such as COVID-19, with the need for ventilators. We’re seeing a pretty large spike in demand for certain material grades that are used in that type of equipment. We’ve been extremely busy, not just in the United States, but at our global sites as well in China and Taiwan.
Matties: Now, to the supply chain issue. The last time we talked, you indicated that progress is being made in the new facility in Arizona. Give us an update on where that’s at and how that’s aiding in the supply chain.
Kelly: We’re very excited about our new facility. We just finished the buildout of the state of the art R&D facility. As you recall, the last time you and I spoke, we had moved in the corporate employees into the new world headquarters. And this is all housed under one roof. The corporate employees moved in last year, and then the R&D facility was just finished this week, which is very exciting. One thing that we’ll be able to do is with the lab that’s part of the R&D facility, we all have the right office space for our scientists and lab techs. But then we built out a completely new lab that’s fully operational by tomorrow and will provide Isola with the tools and capabilities to continue our leadership around innovation and working with our business partners to solve problems.
The next and last phase is the completion of the quick turnaround manufacturing space. If you can envision this very large, 130,000-square-foot facility in Chandler, Arizona, houses all the world headquarters employees as it relates to Chandler. It also houses the R&D employees as well as the lab. The final phase is this quick turnaround facility. The hot presses are actually being set this week, which is one of the major milestones in the building that will be QTA.
Once we install all the support equipment, we can start verifying the equipment run rates and start producing at volume. Work continues on the layup and material handling systems, which is being produced in Taiwan. Now, as we talk about supply chain and the impact of COVID-19, we have seen the impact in terms of some of this equipment. It has caused many challenges as it relates to the collaboration between Isola and the equipment manufacturer that’s based in Taiwan.
However, our team has utilized video conferencing and other technologies where the equipment supplier can take us out on their floor in a virtual environment so we can actually see various pieces of equipment operate. This is all very state-of-the-art equipment. It’s been designed based on our specs working in collaboration with the manufacturer of the equipment. It’s very important that that collaboration continues. Even though there’s a lot of travel restrictions and it’s very difficult to go global at this point, we’re able to utilize certain technologies, which gives us the opportunity to continue to collaborate on those designs.
Matties: That’s great, and it’s amazing how technology is really stepping in to keep things moving. Related to that end, there has been a lot of support in the industry to help each other to get through these challenging times. What sort of stories of support are you hearing out there?
Kelly: Yes. As I said a little bit earlier, as we talk about supply chain, Isola is actively involved in supplying critical material to many of our customers that are manufacturing medical equipment to fight COVID-19. And, arguably, even some new OEMs—as people have seen GM and some of the automotive companies—are now producing ventilators. Isola is treating all material orders that are needed to assist during this pandemic as the top priority. What does that mean? That means to the extent possible, we break into production schedules and move raw materials around the globe at our expense to support emergencies or to help save lives.
Isola is committed to fighting this pandemic alongside our business partners. And we will continue to utilize the full strength of our company to provide quality material in an expedited fashion. There are many examples—especially over the last several weeks—where there’s a huge pickup in demand for certain grades of our material that are needed in a lot of these different medical devices. We are doing everything humanly possible, and having our teams across the globe work many days and shifts to provide this material as quickly as possible to those manufacturers to get the material in a place where they need it and when they need it.
Matties: What advice would you give the industry during these challenging times?
Kelly: I wish I had great advice to give the entire industry. But one thing that we’re focused on is understanding and constant communication with our employees. This is an unprecedented time in our history. We constantly remind one another that we have faced significant challenges in the past. We will remain disciplined and vigilant in all that we do.
One thing that we’re focused on is our unwavering focus on employee safety and engagement, and supporting our business partners, which means both our vendors and our customers to contribute in their own innovation and success. Once again, it’s a very difficult time for everyone—businesses and personally. A lot of people are scared out there, so we focus on over-communicating with our constituents and trying to remain focused on the things and the items we can control. And that’s one thing that I think has helped us be somewhat successful over the last several months—maintaining that focus on execution.
Matties: Great. Travis, thanks for taking the time to help keep our industry well-informed today. We greatly appreciate that.
Kelly: Thank you, Barry, and thank you for the opportunity.
Matties: Once again, you have been listening to Travis Kelly, president and CEO of Isola.