The COVID-19 pandemic was a driving force that influenced product development and launches for Altus Industries Inc. in 2020.
The Walker-based company — which specializes in designing and building workstations for the medical industry — found itself fast-tracking existing projects and developing some from scratch to feed the under supplied medical industry, which was facing both a surge and shift in demand.
During the pandemic, Altus Industries sped up the development of lighter-weight carts to support ventilators, virtual patient visits and telehealth.
While Altus had been slowly developing its telehealth and lightweight powered cart — the L3 ClioAir LCD cart — both the virtual visitor and ventilator carts were in direct response to the shifting needs of medical facilities. The company employs 36 and is headquartered at 3731 Northridge Drive NW in Walker.
“It was all in our wheelhouse — these are all similar things to what we make,” said Sarah Leitz, Altus Industries’ director of product marketing. “Luckily what we already made was really needed for helping people with COVID. Just with the regular products we had, we shipped hundreds if not thousands off to hospitals that were dealing with surges and (the new products) were additional things we could do to help.”
The virtual visitor cart, which was made as part of a partnership with Rockford-based electrical specialists Byrne Inc., provided an easy way for patients to interact with family members and in some cases with nurses in the event they had a brief, simple request.
Understanding the importance of the product, Altus pushed a model out the door immediately so hospitals could use them before going back to overhaul the design. In fact, Leitz estimated that the first couple hundred were made and sold at cost. The gravity of what the cart was used for was not lost on Altus.
“Of course we’re thinking about business and providing work stations, but this is one of those things where you’re helping people visit their family and maybe their last time they’ll get to say goodbye,” Leitz said. “That’s pretty big.”
Altus Industries was fortunate to sidestep the typical supply chain woes that manufacturers in other sectors have faced, making for smooth production on these products.
“We were very fortunate that 80 percent of the components are made here in the U.S. — so, no huge problems with the supply chain,” Leitz said. “We were very fortunate to be able to crank them out. Some suppliers in Grand Rapids and West Michigan stayed open March, April and May just for us.”
And while many of the products were designed as a response to COVID, Leitz expects them to stick around and find a purpose in the market after the pandemic subsides. This is especially true for the lightweight L3 ClioAir LCD cart that has made the lives of frontline workers easier.
“Nurses are working longer hours, doing more, and we knew this cart could help release some stress on them,” Leitz said. “If you make a lighter cart, they’re pushing around less weight and able to do their job a little bit better. …We wanted to do anything we could do to help out those on the front lines.”
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