Alliance Plastics takes advantage of an opportunity, with some help from CVTC
CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis.—Anyone going out and about in the Chippewa Valley is sure to encounter the changes at any counter, from banks to convenience stores and supermarkets. In the age of COVID-19, plastic barriers have been installed to shield clerks from patrons in an effort to slow the virus’s spread.
And a Chippewa Falls company is taking the lead in supplying the equipment to set up the protective measures.
“It started with a national news story on kids in some nation overseas sitting in green boxes looking through clear plastic windows at their desks in school,” said David Goldbach, general manager at Alliance Plastics. “I thought, why not make the whole thing clear? Who wants to sit in a little box with one window?”
At the time, the business had slowed a bit at the manufacturing plant specializing in plastic profile extrusions. Alliance is a custom shop that can make normal customer orders, but it does have certain specialties.
“We are one of just three manufacturers in the country that makes awards and trophies,” Goldbach said. “But that got shut down last spring when there were no sports going on.”
The company does a lot of business in point-of-purchase displays and building materials known as vertical ICF wall systems. “Normally, customers would come to us and ask for a product that we would custom make,” Goldbach said. “But we didn’t have a product of our own. So, we had a brainstorming session.”
Among the people in the room was Scott Peterson, a Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) Machine Tooling Technics graduate.
“Scott worked his way up the ladder in our company and decided he wanted a career in tooling,” Goldbach said. “He decided to take Alliance up on its continuing education benefit. Alliance covered the expense of the schooling at CVTC for him to become a tool maker. Now he is our engineering manager.”
The brainstorming team decided to take advantage of a market opportunity created by the pandemic. “We thought we could do those barriers cheaper and less labor-intensively than what people were doing just taking plexiglass sheets and doing it themselves,” Peterson said.
According to Goldbach, CVTC played a role in this product development process in other ways as well.
“All of my management people have gone through the leadership training program,” Goldbach said, referring to a popular series of classes through CVTC’s Workforce Solutions and Continuing Education team, which provides direct training to incumbent workers. “And we’ve talked to Angela Eckman at CVTC about improving our people’s soft skills, helping them communicate with each other better. It helps us become more efficient.”
Chippewa Valley Technical College offers more than 155 programs, both online and on-campus. The school’s programs are designed with the input of business and industry to prepare graduates for today’s jobs. Ninety-five percent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation, CVTC said, and associate degree graduates earn an average annual salary of $46,816.
“We also worked with Alliance Plastics on workplace safety training and automation,” added Eckman, a business development specialist.
A main protective shield product line Alliance Plastics is marketing to schools, including colleges like CVTC, is a Portable Personal Space Protective Shield (PPSPS). This clear partition can be folded and easily transported.
“It is much cheaper for a college than paying to build shielded stations in libraries and classrooms,” Peterson said. “Students can just bring their own portable devices with them. And the school doesn’t have to use janitors to disinfect barriers all the time.”
“We currently are working on a convertible backpack as a carrying tote for the PPSPS product,” Goldbach added.
A second product is a sneeze guard like those commonly seen in businesses throughout the area.
“It’s primarily for custom use in businesses and schools or office conference tables, reception counters, lab tables, and so on,” Goldbach said. “It can be brought to any environment and its design allows for set-up in multiple shapes. It can configure and fit in almost any existing office, production, or school space without construction space improvements. This product is also more time and cost effective than hiring contractors to build and remodel. It can be fully constructed without the use of tools.”
Goldbach said he is not aware of any other Chippewa Valley companies making protective shields. “We saw an opportunity, and now companies are buying our product to put together themselves. It’s helping people stay safe and saving businesses time and money.”