Brian Turner, president at Mid-Plains Industries and Central Confinement services, along with his team, were wrestling with a question many are feeling right now as the world faces COVID-19: “How can we help?”

Mid-Plains operates an in-house fabrication facility in Columbus, Nebraska, supplying all the Central Confinement pork, beef, and poultry projects with custom steel parts.

The team decided to help with specific goals top-of-mind. The first was keeping people working, Turner said. The second was to contribute in some form or fashion.

“Some had friends or family that were affected by the pandemic. Some family members lost their job, and others were working in direct contact with the public,” he said.

The company can fabricate steel, aluminum or other material with the latest in laser-cutting, water jetting, and welding technology, including in-house CAD and design capabilities. Typically, clients are food processors, agricultural, pharmaceutical and the automotive industry. But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company shifted to making portable shields that serve as protective barriers in places like convenience store cash registers and bank teller windows.

The Protek-Shield is made with a stainless steel frame and 1/16th inch plexiglass. It sells for $80 to $95, depending on size, and it can be customized with a company logo.

The shields play a role in protecting works and the public as the country starts to re-open.

Mid-Plains’ manufacturing history made the transition to producing their Protek shield line a fairly seamless one. Operations shifted to making the plexiglass shields in about a week.

“We did the research and development along the way,” Turner said.

Some designs that didn’t work at first, but they learned and improved.

“We think we are making the most cost-effective, best looking unit on the market,” Turner said.

Coming up with the design was a team effort. Staff sat down together and threw ideas out, discussing the best way to use the resources they had in terms of people and machines.

They first focused on creating something for the convenience store industry, one of the few businesses that were open at the time.

“We knew the shield had to protect all involved, but not be a hindrance to the transaction process,” Turner said.

One fun aspect of the project was coming up with a name. Turner said they wanted something that resonated with what they were trying to achieve, but not turn people off.

“We really had some corny ones listed at first and finally settled on the Protek name,” he said.

Now the company is developing a number of other products to help prevent the virus spread.

All in all, he’s proud of his team.

“This project has turned into a great way to keep our teams busy and at the same time realizing that we are making a difference during the times we are in,” Turner said. “While this situation is bad with people losing their jobs and lives, there are some slices of good happening.”

Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Kerry Hoffschneider is a freelance writer for the Midwest Messenger, based in eastern Nebraska. Reach her at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.