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Legal Notes: Heavy equipment, portable tools adapt to COVID-19

John Bleasby
Legal Notes: Heavy equipment, portable tools adapt to COVID-19

The global construction equipment industry was projected to face headwinds in 2020 even before COVID-19 spread around the world. The pandemic has simply made the outlook worse. According to international research consultancy Off-Highway Research, the industry had peaked in 2018 and 2019 and was forecast to decline five per cent from those record highs this year. Managing director Chris Sleight said his firm believes COVID-19 will cost the industry the equivalent to four per cent of last year’s total output of 1.07 million machines, or approximately 43,000 machines.

A number of North American manufacturing facilities have already closed either temporarily or indefinitely. In late March, Case New Holland (CNH) announced the closure of many of its plants for at least two weeks. However, CNH said that despite some closures, “most component facilities will remain operational at low speed, in order to ensure the continuation of supply to the company’s other manufacturing facilities in North America — specifically those that are deemed essential by the U.S. government.”

Caterpillar has also acted. “Due to uncertain economic conditions resulting in weaker demand, potential supply constraints and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and related government actions,” Caterpillar has temporarily suspended operations at its foundry facilities in Mapleton, Ill. and Hodges, S.C., plus the company’s engine plant in Lafayette, Ind.

Discoveries of the COVID-19 virus at two John Deere facilities in the U.S. have recently forced their closure. Production at both Deere & Company’s cylinder works in Moline, Ill. and their facility in Dubuque, Iowa was halted the same day the virus was detected, the company said. In Waterloo, Ont., a John Deere employee was tested positive for COVID-19 and reportedly put into self-quarantine along with those who might have been in contact.

At the same time, there are several positive corporate developments worth noting.

Deere & Company has switched some of its other Moline production capabilities over to the manufacture of face shields. The company reportedly began a run of 25,000 shields last week using an open source design made available through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, the company has launched a website to allow open sourcing of other equipment designs, such as protective bump caps, and face shield clips that can be produced on 3-D printers.

In Orillia, Ont., Kubota Materials Canada’s 3-D printers have been put to work to produce straps for face masks and face shields. “Our contribution to PPE (personal protection equipment) has been modest, making use of our 3-D printer capacity as directed by hospital staff,” Kubota’s senior manager of technology Matthew Webb told the Daily Commercial News. Alongside nearby Georgian College, the company is also exploring the process of cutting of plastic used for face shields, plus other possible components.

The closure of open-floor shopping at many equipment and building supply outlets across Canada and the United States has negatively affected the sale of portable tools. For example, Milwaukee Electric Tool Company informed its 1,000 workers at the company’s three facilities in Greenwood, Mo., last week that it would close production for until the third week of April at least.

Meanwhile, Connecticut-based Stanley Black & Decker Inc. (SBD) has taken steps to reduce indirect spending and non-essential staffing in their North American operations. However, SBD is maintaining quick turnaround service for its Canadian customers of its brand names like DeWalt through the company’s Canadian call-in service line.

On a larger scale, SBD also announced a $10 million-plus comprehensive COVID-19 philanthropic outreach program to help its communities and employees around the world combat the effects of the pandemic. This includes the purchase of three million face masks, as well as large quantities of other personal protective equipment, for front-line health care workers and first responders. It has also launched a companywide COVID-19 Community Response Task Force under the leadership of chief technology officer Mark Maybury, an initiative that will allocate the company’s time, talents, innovation capabilities and other expertise to help mitigate societal COVID-19-related challenges.


John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Legal Notes column ideas to

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