“Typically, masks are made manually,” Armbrust said. “I realized I could speed up production and eliminate the high costs associated with labor by automating the process.”
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, personal protective equipment such as surgical masks is in short supply. Armbrust saw the emerging need and launched a new business within a matter of months.
“In December, I started hearing about a viral pneumonia-like outbreak in China,” Armbrust said. “With virtually all the masks being produced in China, I wondered what the world would do if the virus were to spread.”
By automating a manufacturing process that is manual elsewhere, Armbrust has solved a riddle that bedevils many: how to produce high quality, low cost products at a high volume.
“Our lab uses automation to turn raw materials into quality surgical masks,” he said. “Our difference is in the quality of manufacturing and the sterile handling of the materials.”
For Armbrust, the business is also distinctly patriotic.
“I know I can make masks as cheaply as China can,” Armbrust said. “I have automation, and they don’t. And I have vertical integration. If I’m bringing the raw materials in and having face masks come out the other side, that’s the key to making the costs be really low.”
One measure of the success of his business, Armbrust said, will be the day an American company does not have to choose between a low-cost mask made abroad and a higher-cost one made in the United States, he said.
"We don’t need a bailout," he said. "We don’t need other countries. We need the finest quality products with the most effective materials, full supply chain control, and no foreign dependence. We need made in America, made in Texas.”
He said he started testing his automated process May 6. Less than two weeks later, on May 19, he launched online sales. Current inventory includes sample packs of 10 masks, boxed sets of 25 masks and boxed sets of 50 masks.
“I’ve had so many people say they’re still having difficulties finding masks,” he said. “I just want to get masks in peoples’ hands.”
Armbrust believes the need for face masks has a future. He said he thinks health care workers, construction workers and even individuals who are not required to wear protective equipment for their jobs will continue to purchase masks well into the future.
“While this crisis was our launching point, I think demand will continue to grow,” he said.
As he invests in the area and looks to transform ways of “old manufacturing thinking,” Armbrust said he hopes his business has staying power in the Austin area.
“I’ve made Texas my home,” Armbrust said. “I always felt this deep bond here. It is really personally exciting to build this business here in Texas. I hope that this is the start of something big, something long-lasting, a cornerstone of the area.”
3813A Helios Way, Pflugerville