Raven Industries makes protective gowns for Sanford Health

Technology company now helps protect health care providers treating COVID-19

Five people work to make protective gowns around a table covered with clear plastic at Raven Industries.

Crystal Domeyer is a Sanford Health employee who was encouraged to think outside the box.

So she did. As a result, she provided the initial spark for what is going to provide thousands of protective gowns for health care providers on the front lines in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus.

As a former employee at Raven Industries, Domeyer, now a Sanford Health manager in supply chain category management, thought Raven might be able to help during a difficult time in health care.

This Sioux Falls-based global technology company, perhaps best known for making high-tech stratospheric balloons, is supplying personal protection gowns for use at Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Society residences.

Ultimately, it is a story about people wanting to help. Then, in this instance, putting that responsibility in the hands of those who know how to do that.

Raven a new source

Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan Society now have a new source for needed personal protection equipment for their employees. It is a marriage of motivation, inspiration and know-how. With it comes the potential to benefit an entire community.

“A few weeks ago, we had a meeting where we were encouraged to think outside the box,” Domeyer said. “We were looking for alternative sources — places we could go for the things we need.”

In particular, the supply chain team was looking for ways of confronting the potential challenges involved in making sure Sanford providers get personal protection items.

Domeyer thought about Raven Industries and how they make suits for pilots and fuel handlers in the military. Could they make gowns designed for personal protection for health care providers?

It turns out, yes, they could.

“After we kicked the ball around a little bit, I got the OK to reach out to Raven Aerostar,” Domeyer said. “I got a chance to ask them what their thoughts were about the possibility of making gowns.”

Things quickly came together. Domeyer supplied Raven with a pattern for a gown and made a prototype. After consulting with people at Sanford on the original, Domeyer came back with a refined design. Raven then created another prototype and got the OK to move forward. They  created a production process that was going to permit them to efficiently manufacture gowns.

Raven was able to make 600 gowns over two days. Sanford has since ordered 10,000.

“We moved the ball down the field as fast as we could,” said Mike Zacher, director of operations for Raven Aerostar. “We went from stratospheric balloons to a medical gown in 48 hours. That’s pretty crazy — it’s something that gets us excited about coming to work.”

Acting on a mission

Raven is now capable of manufacturing more than 100 gowns an hour and expanding capacity. The plan is to make them as long as they’re in demand. The potential is there for the company to also provide other products that will be in need as the community continues to address the challenges involved in the spread of COVID-19.

“At Raven, we have a mission to solve great challenges,” Zacher said. “And within Aerostar, we have a mission statement that says ‘Connect, protect and save lives.’”

That’s a mission statement that hits the target in this case.

“We’ve got team members who have been here for years who are excited to help,” Zacher said. “They’re excited about doing their part to fight this battle.”

This is not the first time the Sanford Health supply chain team has had to go off the script, Domeyer said. Keeping a health care system in good supply of everything can create challenges in the best of times.

“The important thing is to do what we can to protect people on the front lines,” Domeyer said. “I’m very thankful to Sanford for listening, and I’m very thankful to Raven for stepping up to the challenge to produce a product that can help save lives.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Community, Coronavirus, Sioux Falls

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