The critical shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment needed by healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight has made headlines.
It’s also brought together businesses as diverse as 3M and Ford Motor Co. and — far more quietly — a small, family-owned manufacturing business in Southern Pines.
Fletcher Industries has kept an unobtrusive presence on N.C. 22 near Reservoir Park for 60 years. But inside, there is a renewed sense of purpose as the company expands its capacity to produce textile machines that create the braided elastic used on N95 masks.
“This is a story of a local company, but there are others like us involved in different businesses. We are all in the same boat,” said John Taws, president and third-generation owner of Fletcher Industries. “The most important thing is to keep our teams together and move forward.”
That has meant staggered shifts and maintaining social distance protocols at the 60,000 square foot facility so this essential work may continue unabated.
“This whole situation is heartbreaking. We’ve had to school our team that it’s not only in the interest of their own health, but we each have to be responsible for the health of our entire team because we need to keep functioning,” said Taws.
With the global pandemic interrupting logistic chains, especially in Asia and India, Fletcher Industries has become a “stop gap measure” in supplying medical textile machines, parts and accessories for clients, particularly those in the U.S.
Founded in 1850, in Philadelphia, Taws’ father moved the company to its present location in 1959.
“Textile machinery has always been our bread-and-butter,” he said, but noted they shifted into technical textiles and medical applications in the mid-1990s.
Today, Fletcher specializes in engineered solutions for a variety of textiles, including shuttles for paper machine clothing, industrial and military-spec webbing, medical textiles, plus two- and three-dimensional woven structures. These include Ratera braiding machines that create the elastic straps used for N95 masks.
Taws described his 18-person operation as a team of craftsmen and artists.
“We are turning on lead times right now that are incredible. Everyone here is highly-skilled and we are blessed with a great crew,” he said. “We are doing this because we can get it done.”