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Biotix May See Future In Shields

It began after the nationwide shutdown, Biotix a San Diego-based manufacturer of laboratory consumables was approached by a tech giant who was looking to supply the state of California with one of the first state orders to combat the coronavirus. 

As a result, Biotix who makes disposable plastic lab products like plastic test tubes at its Tijuana facility, asked its plastic supplier if the company could mass produce face shields. 

Quickly Turned Around

The first prototype was quickly turned around, tweaks were made and a one million shield purchase order from the state of California followed, according to the company.

Since then, Biotix reconfigured its Tijuana’s production lines to make its product named The Defender, ramping production to produce tens of thousands face shields daily. 

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It also hired more than 130 workers to help existing employees produce the additional order request to make more than 2 million shields for the state of California and Pennsylvania.

“When I first went out to test these things, one of the nurses cried because there weren’t able to get them,” said Founder and Chief Technology Officer Arta Motadel.

30,000 Masks Donated

In addition to paid orders, the Scripps Ranch company announced it donated over 30,000 masks to local and state first responders. In total, donating 15,000 masks to San Diego County, 10,000 to State of Baja California, 5,000 to City of Tijuana and 3,000 front line workers.

Orders have also come in from Google, the state of California and Pennsylvania and others for face shields designed to protect front line workers and doctors, among other uses. 

“I had an employee who requested a box for his brother that was a first responder and so I decided to make that option available to every Biotix employee at least 10 cases, allowing them to give them to friends, family and neighbors,” said Paul Nowak CEO of Biotix. “It’s been such a success, people have given cases away to their family who couldn’t get this stuff.”

Incorporated in 2005, Biotix has merged CLP and primarily focuses on high-end, heavily engineered and differentiated OEM robotic pipette tips. Previously a private San Diego company, its now part of a $3 billion Swiss firm with 50 people in North America and 900 people at its plant in Tijuana.

It’s a shift from the manufacturer’s laboratory business, which has had double digit growth for more than 10 years, taking significant share, Nowak said. 

About two thirds its business goes through distributors like Thermo Fisher Scientific and VWR International, which has seen an uptick due to the pandemic. The rest of the business comes from selling direct.

“Our North American customer base in the academic market, has really slowed due to the closure of universities. But on the opposite, the BioPharma is up and our international business is booming,” said Nowak. “Most of those customers, are still working hard with people looking for vaccines.”

The company’s expertise extends far beyond laboratory consumables like pipette tips. It provides game-changing kitting, thermal forming plastics and liquid handling solutions to the largest BioTech companies around the world. Customers were not disclosed.

40% of Production is PPEs

More than 40% of production is now dedicated to personal protective equipment-related manufacturing.

Most interestingly, the scientific manufacturing business tends to thrive even in a pandemic. Nowak said, “I’ve been in the business for over 42 years and its almost never in a recession and has continued to its growth year-over-year as long for as I’ve been in the business.”

Prior to joining Biotix as CEO in 2007, Paul was the chief operating officer of Symyx Technologies, a Silicon Valley manufacturer of high-throughput robotics and software applications. He also served as COO and CEO of VWR International, a global distributor of laboratory supplies helping transform VWR into a $2.8 billion company.

The executive team and much of the office staff have also learned to work from home, with communication actually strengthened as a result, according to Nowak.

The company said it took all protective measures to protect its employees by splitting its employee count into two shifts, wearing protective gear and even having on-site doctors to check employee temperatures every morning.

More notably, out of its roughly 1,000 person workforce, they have had only one person test positive for COVID-19 and the person has successfully recovered since the incident. 

It’s early to determine whether protective masks will be a long-term business unit. What was described as a spontaneous effort to jump in and help the community will continue production as long as there is demand for it, according to the company. 

Rewarding Project

“It was a super rewarding project,” said Motadel. “Of course, we planned to sell most of them but one of my goals was to give away as much as we can. As an engineer, the project itself wasn’t very hard but I received more positive feedback than any project I’ve ever done.”

After 10 years, Motadal departs the company he founded this month to pursue what he says is a higher calling, which is to work on product solutions to the COVID-19 crisis as an independent consultant. 

“Fortunately, we were able to get into this facial business and help us fill in some holes but we didn’t do it as an economic player to grab share in a new market at all. It was 100 percent out of altruism and it also helped pay some bills it was kind of a double positive,” Nowak said.

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