KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Some of the most important tools to fight coronavirus are right here in our own backyard, from producing thousands and thousands of face shields to cover N95 masks, to sterilizing those masks starting next week.

The global medical device manufacturer DeRoyal, based in Knoxville, is going through what its president and CEO calls a “bittersweet boom in business.”

We talked with Brian DeBusk about DeRoyal’s role in these extraordinarily tough times.

DeRoyal makes a wide range of products from wound care to surgical items.

Now, it’s changing to meet new demands.

It’s seeing a huge increase in requests for face shields due to the shortage of N95 masks.

“So what we’re seeing is they’re using the N95 disposable mask but they’re reusing it and to preserve it,” DeBusk says. “So that mask, for example, can last the entire shift.

“They’re now incorporating the complete face shield that goes from forehead to chin. So we’ve seen a dramatic increase in that as well.

“We’ve set up manufacturing cells in 2 different states to make these face shields. We need to be making 40,000 to 60,000 per week, but we also have an automation team with our engineers working on accelerating that process being able to make face shields in a more automated way as well. “

Face shields are made of a special form of plastic.

One obstacle to making fabric personal protection equipment is the fact that most of the material comes from China.

“The problem here is that the Chinese supply chain; not only is it disrupted, but they’re still keeping a lot of that personal protective gear for their own use so you’re seeing disruption not only in manufacturing but in the exporting and manufacturing of the raw materials themselves,” DeBusk says. “A lot of these raw materials like the SMS fabric used in lots of personal protection equipment –the vast majority is made in China. So even if we began sewing for example, the isolation gowns, we wouldn’t be able to get the materials for it because they also were sourced out of China. It’s very frustrating.

“There is a shortage right now of the N95 filter material that’s used in these masks. But even the simple surgical masks, the materials that are used there largely come out of China, and they have some filtration properties.

“I think it’s wonderful people are trying to sell masks, clearly a cloth mask is better than no mask, but I think we really need to exercise some caution here on how and when those products are used because a surgical or medical grade mask cannot easily be substituted for something made of traditional materials like cotton.”

DeRoyal doesn’t make the N95 masks because of that, but it is playing an important role in make sure reusing them is as safe as possible, sterilizing a big shipment soon at one of its units in Tazewell.

“Starting next week one of our distributors is gonna be sending us reprocessed N95 masks to be sterilized in those chambers. So we’re already looking at even how our sterilization process can be adapted to accommodate some of the personal protection equipment and the reuse of some of them,” DeBusk says.

DeRoyal has also just reprogrammed 1,200 surgical wound care devices to become portable suction devices for use in makeshift hospitals.

DeBusk says the medical supply industry needs to be prepared for a possible resurgence of Coronavirus in the fall when the weather cools down, but he says we will get through this.