The Pivot from Seat Covers to Facemasks

The Pivot from Seat Covers to Facemasks

By Donald Dunphy
May, 2020

In March 2020, the reality of a worldwide pandemic began to take hold and the ripple of uncertainty spread out across nearly every industry. Organizations were flooded with questions: what was essential/nonessential; how to manage a tele-workforce; how to manufacture a product that may not be in great demand in the short-term; and how to keep staff active during a shutdown? Everyone needed answers, and fast.

Meeting a Need

TigerTough Group is a manufacturer of seat covers; their way forward came when medical professionals on the frontlines put out an urgent call for personal protective equipment (PPE). The company was uniquely suited to make a contribution and fill this great need.

We recently caught up with NAFA Associate Member Nathan Zitzmann, Operations Director for TigerTough. The company has been able to make washable face masks and is working on adding gowns to meet the short supply. “Switching over to manufacturing PPE was a boost to the team here. There was a lot of excitement around being able to pitch in and help in the fight. We have a great group of people and they embraced this project wholeheartedly,” explains Zitzmann.


Manufacturing Reset

Flipping a manufacturing process is not as simple as turning on a light switch. Not all the materials at TigerTough’s disposal were suitable for PPE, particularly those which might touch a person’s skin. “It took some time in research and development to find the correct raw goods and in purchasing to source enough of them,” Zitzmann says.
A key tool in TigerTough’s manufacturing process is the computer numerical control (CNC) router, a computer-controlled cutting machine used for cutting various hard materials, such as aluminum, plastics, and glass. “The CNC cutter and all of our sewing machines needed to be adjusted to work with material that is far different from the seat covers we typically manufacture,” Zitzmann says. “The sewing machine operators had to learn new techniques to minimize the time required to sew the masks, but they rallied to it and learned quite quickly.”


Giving Back

So far, TigerTough has made over 50,000 masks. “We have masks in inventory now and have been offering same-day shipping,” Zitzmann adds. Product has been shipped to a wide range of companies including hospitals, food service companies, police departments, truck stops, truck upfitters and construction companies.
The company is already looking to a time when it can reverse course and get back to normal. “We will be able to switch back without a lot of trouble,” Zitzmann says. “We never completely stopped making seat covers because we are spec'd in vehicles used for medical and healthcare, telecommunications, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works. We needed to make sure we were not delaying the upfitting of new vehicles for companies in those industries.”

This initiative has meant a great deal to Zitzmann and the whole TigerTough team. “I'm thrilled we have been able to help in the fight,” he says. “We were able to keep some essential companies open when they had government-mandated or self-imposed mask requirements and no place to source them from. As far as the effort from the team here, it was amazing to see how they pulled together to make this work.”

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