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For some companies, pandemic drives demand

Safetec of America has ramped up production of its infection-control products.

CleanSlate UV is trying to keep pace with demand for its technology that disinfects mobile devices.

As some businesses are hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, others, such as these two Buffalo companies, are grappling with a surge in customer interest.

Safetec makes infection control products, including sprays and wipes, at its operations on Kensington Avenue. Two of its disinfectant formulas appear on an Environmental Protection Agency list of formulas deemed effective against COVID-19.

The company has seen a surge in demand for all of its products, including its hand hygiene and bloodborne pathogen spill kits, said Heidi Daly, Safetec's marketing manager. Safetec sells its products through distributors to customers including hospitals, government institutions and factories.

About a month ago, Safetec took note of the cornoavirus outbreak growing overseas and decided it was time to start building up its inventory. Safetec, which has 125 employees, has expanded its production schedule to five days a week from four, and now runs a shift on Saturdays, too, said Ken Bianchi, executive vice president.

And the orders keep coming.

"We're telling customers [the wait is] 12 to 16 weeks from today, and they're still putting orders in," Bianchi said. "We're backordered, I would say out into June right now. I don't see this going away any time soon."

Safetec plans to hire another 10 to 15 people to its workforce of 125.

"Our products are here to help with these type of situations, and that's what we're proud of," Bianchi said.

Safetec of America has seen a surge in demand for its products. (provided photo)

Bianchi recalls a similar surge in orders in 2009, during the H1N1 flu pandemic. Many companies implemented pandemic plans then, he said.

"A lot of those pandemic plans are going to get dusted off again," he added.

CleanSlate UV has offices in Buffalo and Toronto, and was a prize winner in the 2015 edition of the 43North business competition. Long before the coronavirus pandemic, CleanSlate UV was promoting its technology for using ultraviolet light to disinfect germ-covered mobile devices in settings including health care, food and biotech facilities.

CleanSlate UV's units are about the size of a desktop printer. It works like this: the lid for the unit is already open when users walk up to it. They place their mobile devices into a tray that can hold three to four devices at once.

Once the lid is closed, the unit takes 20 seconds to sanitize the devices with ultraviolet light, and prompts users to wash or sanitize their hands while they wait.

"Doing both at the same time is the whole point," said Taylor Mann, the CEO. Then the lid automatically pops open so the devices can be retrieved.

The Hong Kong Health Authority selected CleanSlate UV to supply its units to hospitals across its territory, in response to coronavirus concerns.

"We pulled together every single piece of inventory we had in Buffalo about three weeks ago and shipped the first batch of units off," Mann said. "They've reserved our next batch of units of production, which is going to bring them up to a total of about 60 units.

"They put that order in just as our sales exploded in the United States. We're now on about a two-month backorder for any new product, which is not as bad as some companies that have supply chains that are primarily in China."

Subassembly of its units is performed in China, with final steps completed in Buffalo, in partnership with the Olmsted Center for Sight.

On one day last week, Mann said his company had received more quote requests from potential customers than it had in December and January combined.

CleanSlate UV's team of eight is about to grow. The company was already preparing for a capital injection, before the pandemic increased demand for its products. Mann estimates CleanSlate UV will add 25 employees over the next five months, about 10 of them in Buffalo.

Mann said the pandemic could lead to long-term awareness about proper hygiene, including for mobile devices.

"This is not a problem that was invented with the coronavirus," he said. "But the pandemic has basically just brought awareness to a pre-existing problem, which is how dirty cellphones are and what that means in terms of hand hygiene, as well."



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