Brisbane-based manufacturer EGR Group pivoted from car accessories to pandemic face shields when COVID-19 hit, saving hundreds of jobs in the process. Now they’re ready to adapt to whatever happens next.
Before COVID, the family-owned EGR Group was best known for making ute canopies and bull bars. But they were also experienced in manufacturing the rigid polymer sheeting used in personal protective equipment, and when the auto industry started feeling the effects of the pandemic, the company quickly prioritised producing face shields and protective barriers for front-line medical staff and retail workers.
“Car manufacturers were stopping production,” customer development manager Kellie Phillips says, “and importing was going to be difficult, which we knew would mean a slump in new car sales, which would flow down to car accessories. But plastics were our very first product, so it was a simple decision for us to pivot in that direction.”
Initially focusing on disposable face shields, the company quickly tooled up to produce injection-moulded pieces that are both recyclable and reusable.
“Every piece of the face shield can be easily cleaned with detergent,” Kellie says, “so they don’t have to be thrown away after each use.”
Not only was the face shield designed in Brisbane, but each part of the product – the crystal-clear shield itself, as well as the halo, strap, and even the box it comes in – is made in Brisbane. EGR’s extrusion plant in Wacol manufactures the polymer sheets, while the company’s factory in Salisbury produces the rest.
Since April, the company has sold more than 700,000 face shields, mostly to domestic medical suppliers who were previously forced to resort to importing similar products from overseas – an increasingly fraught practice as the pandemic disrupted supply. The company has also exported face shields to the US and European markets.
“The fact that the shields are locally made is very important,” Kellie says. “It means we’ve all been able to keep our jobs, and we’ve even been able to create new jobs at our factory in Salisbury.”
It’s not just medical suppliers who have been stocking up on EGR’s products, either. Both the face shields and the company’s ‘ZenoShield’ transparent protective barriers have been popular with supermarkets, pharmacies and other public-facing retailers and service providers.
“You can walk into a nail salon now and see one of our ZenoShields up, or get a massage from a therapist wearing one of our face shields,” Kellie says. “It is PPE, but there’s a wider market for it than hospitals and nursing homes.”
With cases dwindling in Australia and restrictions easing, even in the areas hit hardest by the virus, Kellie says the company has slowed its production of face shields and barriers and put more resources back into its automotive products. But they are testing additional uses for the face shields, and plan to continue producing personal protective equipment.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen [with coronavirus],” Kellie says. “We obviously want everybody to stay healthy, but if the situation was to change, it’s good to know we have the ability to ramp production of those products back up.
“We’ve proven that we’re not just about car accessories. People know we’re here and we’re able to adapt and use our equipment and our expertise wherever it’s needed.”