Making It Work, Part 16: Industrial PPE maker Bullard expands production

By Lorie Hailey

(Editor’s note: This is part 16 in our series about how Kentucky businesses are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19. See the full report.)

CEO Wells Bullard is the fifth generation of her family to run the company, which began in 1898 and developed its best selling product, the hardhat, 100 years ago.

Personal protective equipment manufacturer Bullard has ramped up production in the past two months to meet the sharp surge in demand for respiratory and faceshield products ­– including air-purifying respirators and hoods – to help protect those on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

Headquartered in Cynthiana, Bullard is a fifth-generation family-owned enterprise that makes head and face protection, powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) and supplied air respirators, fire and rescue helmets, and thermal imaging cameras. It has a storied history: Bullard was founded in San Francisco in 1898 as a supplier of carbide lamps and other mining equipment. About 20 years later, the company invented the iconic construction hardhat.

When the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Kentucky (March 6, 2020), Bullard took action right away, developing a market response team to find ways to improve its processes and partner with others to meet the product demands of healthcare professionals, said Wells Bullard, president and CEO of the company.

“As a personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturer, it’s our responsibility to provide healthcare workers with the products needed to protect them on the frontlines, so we needed to act immediately to help protect as many people as possible,” she said.

While it does not share specific volumes, the company has increased its PAPR capacity by nearly 20 times and its faceshield capacity by 200 times, Wells Bullard said. To do this, Bullard cross-trained its employees and added workstations and sewing machines.

“The demand for our PAPRs, hoods and faceshields has increased significantly, and we are doing all we can to meet the demands to help keep frontline responders COVID-19 safe,” she said. “Everyone we protect is a critical infrastructure worker, so we continue to fulfill orders for fire helmets and thermal imagers to protect our first responders, and hard hats and other respiratory protection to protect utility workers and maintenance workers helping to keep our world going. The work for our customers doesn’t stop, and they are counting on us to keep them safe in their important work.”

Employee safety was equally important, Bullard said, so the company also created a COVID-19 response team to lead the company through the pandemic by educating and communicating consistently with its 236 manufacturing and 42 research and development employees, the CEO said. In addition to its Cynthiana plant, Bullard has an R&D facility in Lexington and offices in Singapore and Germany.

Bullard’s COVID-19 response team meets daily to monitor the latest information and regulations from state and federal agencies. It also has implemented social distancing measures, handwashing protocols, increased cleaning of workspaces and other safety procedures.

“Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees. As we continue to learn more about the coronavirus, we continue to implement new safety measures to ensure we are doing everything we can to keep our employees safe, so that we can protect as many people as possible,” she said.

As part of The Lane Report’s Making It Work series, Wells Bullard shared a bit more about how COVID-19 has affected the 122-year-old company and how it has responded to challenges presented by the global pandemic.

The Lane Report: How did increased demand affect measures to keep employees safe?

Wells Bullard: We are focused on limiting the exposure of our employees, and so we have separated shifts and work areas, expanded manufacturing lines throughout our plant to give people more space, added visual markers to ensure we are working at a socially safe distance from each other and implemented workspace cleaning and handwashing protocols. Our manufacturing team is amazing and has demonstrated the incredible flexibility with which they can respond to our very important call of duty.

TLR: In what other ways has the pandemic affected your company?

Bullard: We restricted travel very early during this pandemic for the safety of our employees, and this has been exceptionally hard for our sales teams who rely on customer visits to perform their jobs. In our new normal, we have learned to master the art of virtual meetings, and our marketing and sales teams have been very creative in using virtual meetings to stay connected with our customers and to educate people from afar. I would also add that we are exploring partnerships with other manufacturers that we probably would not have engaged with before COVID-19. It’s a tribute to all the manufacturers who have come together to partner to produce PPE for our healthcare workers.

TLR: Have any of your services changed? How have processes been altered to help limit the spread of COVID-19 but still serve your clients?

Bullard: We are fighting this pandemic by joining with other companies to expedite the supply of raw materials to further increase production and sharing our knowledge and expertise with each other to improve our technologies and increase throughput, so we can supply our products faster to COVID-19 responders and other critical infrastructure workers.

TLR: Are you operating with a full staff right now? How have employees responded to changes at your facility?

Bullard: I’m proud to say that we are operating with a full workforce and our employees have responded positively with all the new procedures that have been and continue to be implemented as we learn more about COVID-19. It’s because of our incredible workforce that we have been able to respond so quickly.

TLR: Do you have any employees doing their work remotely? What were the challenges in getting that set up?

Bullard: Many of our employees are working remotely in Kentucky and around the globe as we all stay healthy at home together. Our biggest challenge was ensuring that all employees had online access to our in-house systems. Thanks to the quick response from our IT team, we are fully operational working remotely.

TLR: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Bullard: Bullard’s first priority has always been to keep our employees and their families healthy and safe during this pandemic. All the precautionary measures we have implemented are working because of the commitment from every Bullard employee. Our employees are tough, like the products we make, and resilient and flexible, and this has never been demonstrated more than right now. All of us at Bullard will continue to fight against COVID-19 because we know how critical our role is to all the brave workers we protect, so they can heal those who are ill with this virus, make the drugs that keep us healthy, respond to emergency rescue calls, and keep the power in our hospitals running. It takes all of us, and this Bullard family is doing our part to get through this together.


Share your story

We want to hear how business leaders across the state have responded to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the efforts to stop the spread of it. If your business would like to share its story, email Lorie at [email protected].