As the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic continues, several manufacturers are still operating and deemed essential for supplying critical components. ZAGO Manufacturing is one such company.
The New Jersey-based global manufacturer provides high-tech, custom sealing solutions and components to numerous industries — including to the medical sector.
ZAGO CEO, Gail Friedberg, recently took time out to speak with us and share the manufacturer’s current efforts and the precautions it has put in place to safely continue operations.
Listen to the interview below…
The following is a lightly edited transcript…
Fastener Engineering (FE): Hello everyone! I’m Michelle Froese, an editor with Fastener Engineering. I’m joined today by Gail Friedberg, the CEO of ZAGO Manufacturing Company — a New Jersey-based global manufacturer of high-tech, clean, custom ceiling solutions and components. Gail has kindly agreed to speak with me about ZAGO’s current capabilities and response in regard to COVID-19.
The company has been deemed an essential manufacturer and is still operating but with additional safety precautions in place. Significantly, ZAGO has also been providing critical medical components to the industry and I’m sure Gail will share more insight about this during our conversation. Gail, thanks so much for your time today.
Gail Friedberg (GF): Oh, you’re so welcome, Michelle. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us about ZAGO.
FE: Absolutely! Before we get into how ZAGO is managing currently, can you first please share a little bit about the company and the components it supplies?
GF: I’d love to! ZAGO was formed in 1993. We actually started as an incubator business at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. We’ve been in Newark for our entire existence and we supply, as you said, our fasteners globally. We make two lines of products. The first is self-sealing screws, nuts, and bolts. They have a groove under the head and then an o-ring that goes into the grove to provide metal-to-metal contact and sealing. The parts seal out contaminants and seal in whatever is running in the machine or the equipment.
FE: Got it. What are the main industries that you supply to? I know I mentioned the medical sector in the intro. Any others?
GE: Well, the parts are originally military, so we sell a lot to the defense industry. Branching out from that, we sell to the aerospace and the marine industry. Those were the original industries. But right now, we probably sell to 100 different types of equipment manufacturers. For example, energy generation — not just traditional energy generation but also alternative energy. And then, there’s also the robotics industry…we sell a lot to robotics manufacturers, such as for undersea robotics. This is when someone wants to send something down under the sea to look around, see what’s going on…yet, it’s important to seal that up really well. We also sell to drone manufacturers.
The industries go on and on. But yeah, as you had mentioned at the beginning, right now our critical customers are in the medical device industry. In fact, we’ve always sold to the medical device industry. Before this time, we were selling to Ventech, which is now partnering with GM to make ventilators. But Ventech is a customer we’ve had for a while. We also sell to kidney dialysis machine makers. We sell parts to companies that make hospital beds. The list in terms of what’s important right now goes on and on.
FE: That’s an impressive list. In terms of the medical supplies, are there ones that you’re currently offering that are in the highest demand? I imagine, to ventilator machines and anything that goes to the hospital that can help out?
GF: It’s self-sealing fasteners, so we’re selling the fasteners that go into the machinery. We’re selling special fasteners to GM — we have a big contract with GM to sell them fasteners — but it’s mainly fasteners. We also sell sealing switch boots, but at this time that’s not where the demand is. The demand is really for self-sealing fasteners because, for example in a ventilator, you want to seal in the air that’s being delivered to the patient and you want to seal out any kind of contaminant that can come in and affect that air, or affect the workings of the machinery. It’s so important that the machinery work without a hitch and our fasteners let the machinery do that.
FE: Makes sense. Thanks, Gail! What modifications has the company had to make to meet the safe working conditions that are required now?
GF: Well, it’s interesting because a lot of the modifications that companies have had to make, we’ve actually made them over the last couple of years. Not with something like this in mind, of course, but in terms of efficiency and lean production in mind. For instance, in the last several years, we’ve automated a lot of our equipment so we can have three or four machines run by one person. And, we’ve just adopted an ERP system that allows us to work from the cloud.
Even before Governor Murphy, New Jersey’s governor, announced the new restrictions, about a week before that we had told everybody who could work at home, “Okay, gather your stuff up. You’re going to be working at home.” And they could go to work at home and be on our system without any issues. And then, the people in the factory could work six feet apart.
That being said, especially in the beginning, we were very cognizant of people’s fears about being together and working together. And again, before the executive orders even went into place, we were requiring people to, we were prohibiting people from coming into the factory, except if they worked there. We were requiring people before they clocked in to wash their hands. We gave everybody PPE equipment so that they would feel comfortable when they were there.
And in the beginning, when people were very nervous and uncomfortable as they rightly were, we were working split shifts and we were having people come in either half a day or every other day. When people had told us that they were exposed, we were keeping them out for two weeks. These are all things that have happened. Now that everybody is more acclimated to the situation, we can still have them come in and work very safely, but they can work closer to their normal shifts.
FE: Sounds like you were well-prepared. How are you managing overall? It sounds like you’re doing quite well. And other than the obvious challenges with fears and mandated restrictions and social distancing, have there been any major obstacles that have come up for you at this time?
GF: Again, the major obstacles are managing the workforce and their fears and worries. I know of other manufacturing companies where they’ve had tremendous numbers of people out and sick and caring for family members… we’ve had some of that but not a lot of that. And I think part of the reason is that we were so firm in the beginning that they had to obey all of the social distancing and hygiene rules when they were at work, but that also if they weren’t obeying the executive order when it came into place at home, they weren’t permitted to come back to work.
We’re lucky that people were honest with us and say, “Oh, I was exposed here.” We’re like, “Okay, well you can come in for two weeks.” It was very challenging in the beginning, managing the workforce, and we were down several people, not because of illness, but because of either family illness or because we were telling them they couldn’t come in because of their potential exposure. But I think people understand the situation better now. They’re much more compliant and going forward things seem to be smooth. We do expect that our regular business will have a downturn. The non-COVID related business will go down. We’re seeing some quietness but we’ll have enough to see us through.
FE: And everyone is doing okay? I hope! Have you been able to maintain positivity with your team throughout this?
GF: Yeah, we have been able to maintain positivity. Part of that is communicating to them, making sure they know what they’re working for and exactly what they’re working on. Everyone feels really proud to be part of this effort to produce ventilators. There’s that aspect of it and people are committed to the company and to the long-term success of the company because they share in that success. They are looking around and seeing people losing their jobs left and right and they know they’re working for a strong company that cares about them and will take care of them in the long term.
FE: It sounds like you have a great team. Have you discovered or implemented any tips along the way or any feedback or suggestions you’d like to share with others?
GF: I think the most important thing for the company is that it’s all about information and communication. For several months I’d been monitoring this situation. This wasn’t if you were reading and paying attention, you knew that this was coming and so every day I read and find out what’s the latest and best information. Because it’s changing. I don’t have to tell you, it’s changing hour by hour. What’s the best information? What’s going to happen? Nobody really knows what’s going to happen, but it’s, you have to have a long-term perspective on it because this isn’t something that a month from now, everything’s going to open up and it’s all going to be fine. That’s not the way it’s going to be.
I’m always trying to gather information about the disease itself and about its economic ramifications, and then communicating that information to our employees so that they have an understanding of what the long-term implications might be so they can plan their lives accordingly.
We also have very good communication with our vendors and our customers and managing their expectations. And luckily, well…not luckily, but by design going into this, we had a very good relationship with our vendors. We always knew how important it was to take care of our vendors. When we needed raw material very quickly to meet, let’s say the GM contract, they were there for us. They said, “We’re going to put you first because you’ve always taken care of us.” And that’s really helped us get through this situation. And the other aspect of it is that we’ve always tried to keep a pretty short supply chain and we’re not one of the companies that relied on China for a ton of raw material. Our vendors are local, our supply chains are short and it makes us a much better supplier for our customers.
FE: That’s great to hear! Thanks so much, Gail. Any final comments you’d like to add before we end our discussion today?
GF: My final comment is just that…I hope everybody out there in the fastener industry and the manufacturing world and everybody else stays well, stays safe, and stays healthy. My biggest concern goes out to the people who are on the front lines and the healthcare workers. We have a lot of close people in our lives who are doctors and nurses and who are on the front lines and I worry very much about them. And first responders and so I’m hoping that everybody else can do their part so that we can keep that frontline healthy and that will keep the rest of us healthy.
FE: Agreed. Good points, Gail. If listeners would like to learn more about ZAGO, where can they go?
GF: They can go to our website, www.zago.com and if they have specific questions, they can email us at [email protected]. If they want a quotation, they can go on our website and we have a product builder and they can build their product and send a request for a quote with any other information that they feel is relevant.
FE: Excellent. Appreciate the conversation, Gail! I wish you well. Stay healthy. And thanks to everyone else for listening today.