Pandemic inspires Rensselaer family to launch PPE-making company
Clayton Geyer hasn’t had to rely on his 2018 marketing degree to sell his family’s latest product: personal protective equipment or PPE.
“Everyone seems to be finding us during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Geyer, 24, vice president of Indiana Face Mask in Rensselaer.
“I really haven’t had to invest much yet for any marketing messages to let anyone know we are here,” the Indiana University Bloomington graduate said.
He credits his parents, Fred and Stephanie Geyer, with coming up with the company’s name and logo. But he is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, which started in March. Largely, they have spent much of the past eight months fulfilling a contract purchase order for the state of Indiana. The state ordered 2 million surgical-quality pleated masks and 1 million N95 masks.
Indiana Face Mask, at 3300 W. Clark St. near the Jasper County Airport and Jasper County Fairgrounds, is a company born from necessity and sudden demand.
Previously, Clayton worked with his parents at the family’s decade-old manufacturing business American Melt Blown & Filtration, which is also in Rensselaer. That company provides filtration components for clients around the country. Their cleaning tools do everything from convert salt water to fresh water in Florida to treating crude oil for refineries.
“Originally, before COVID-19 hit, we had already purchased our repurposed 33,000-square-foot space with our plan being that we’d start a new company to make swimming pool filtration,” said Stephanie Geyer, who serves as the treasurer for both Indiana Face Mask and American Melt Blown & Filtration.
“The demand for FDA-approved personal protective equipment inspired us to switch gears and create a mask-manufacturing operation with Clayton leading the project,” she said. “Clayton had already worked hard helping us build up our original business.”
It’s the family’s “original business,” American Melt Blown & Filtration, that catapulted the idea of making masks as an answer to the state’s shortage of protective coverings — the same dilemma facing the rest of the world.
“There were many startup businesses last spring who decided to quickly jump into the production of face masks as personal protection equipment, and they invested a great deal in the labor and the machinery needed to assemble what looked like surgical-grade face masks,” Clayton Geyer said.
“However, what these other new company hopefuls were missing was the most important part of the mask production formula, and that’s the inner layer created from melt blowing to filter out impurities.”
Clayton said his family’s anchor business, American Melt Blown & Filtration, is one of only four companies in the U.S. capable of manufacturing the inside filtration layers. It uses the “melt blowing” technique required to gain FDA approval. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration definition, “melt blowing” is a fabrication method that combines a polymer with very small fibers to form a nonwoven sheet product used for filtration.
“At one point, we had the ambassador of South Korea at our production facility insisting we fulfill an order for much-needed masks for his country,” Geyer said.
“Early on in the pandemic, there were multiple news reports about face masks being purchased from other countries, but the shipped product did not have the necessary filtration. Our mask designs had to be submitted and pass all of the FDA testing.”
By August, Indiana Face Mask had a production line with 16 full-time employees working day shifts and five full-time employees working nights to operate the mostly automated assembly line. The machinery still requires overseeing and supervision by employees, as well as quality control needs and counting and sorting duties.
Geyer said to meet demand, by this fall’s production, Indiana Face Mask will ideally operate with a total of 30 full-time employees, including boxing and shipping needs.
Currently, Indiana Face Mask produces between 40,000 to 50,000 surgical face masks weekly.
Geyer said he’s also working with his parents to expand on ideas to help bring better and more convenient personal protective equipment to the masses.
“The latest division of our production company is now doing individual one-portion packaging of hand sanitizer, which are ideal for schools and businesses,” Geyer said. “I just happened to think of the idea one day at lunch while opening up a ketchup packet.”