A new plant under development in Pittsfield could produce up to 40 million medical swabs monthly, providing a far greater supply of a key component for coronavirus testing.

Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products said conversion work is underway at a plant where security systems and alarms used to be produced, with the goal of having its swab manufacturing plant up and running by July 1.

That could put it on track to boost production to 40 million swabs a month by August or September, said Timothy Templet, the co-owner of Puritan. That’s nearly double the company’s current output of about 720,000 swabs a day, or 21.6 million per month.

The swabs are used to collect fluid samples from subjects’ nasal cavities or throats. The samples are then run through machines designed to detect whether the subject has COVID-19, the virus that has caused more than 344,000 deaths and infected millions in the U.S. and around the world.

Some of the testing machines are portable devices developed by companies including Abbott Laboratories, a Chicago-based company that is mass-producing COVID-19 test kits that provide results within minutes at its factory in Scarborough.

Some health experts say a shortage of swabs has hampered efforts to roll out more widespread testing for the virus.

Sen. Susan Collins during an event April 30 in Pittsfield, where it was announced that Puritan Medical Products will ramp up swab production at a converted plant there. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Templet said the Pittsfield site is being converted to swab production by Cianbro, a Pittsfield-based construction company that owns the building. It had been used by United Technologies Corp. to make security systems and alarms until it was closed in 2014.

Lee Umphrey, president and CEO of Eastern Maine Development Corp., said the plant employed 300 people before it closed and was one of Pittsfield’s largest employers.

Getting people back to work at the site will be a boost to the area as well as help a company produce a product that will be key in fighting the pandemic, Umphrey said.

“It’s kind of a call to duty,” he said.

Puritan plans to hire 150 people to work at the site, and Umphrey said his organization is helping to recruit workers.

“We’ll be hiring 150 for sure and it’s just a beginning,” Templet said.

A Facebook page that Eastern Maine Development put up about the plant and the search for workers attracted 22,000 hits right off the bat, Umphrey said. He also said that his organization has funding from the Maine Department of Labor to help displaced workers with training and the program will focus on getting workers prepared for the Puritan jobs.

Pittsfield and other towns in northern Maine have struggled with job losses and paper mill closings in recent years, he noted. Higher-tech manufacturing jobs like those being offered by Puritan could help lead to a “reinvention” of the region, Umphrey said.

In early May, Puritan and Bath Iron Works announced a deal in which the Bath shipbuilder will make some machinery for Puritan. Templet said the machines will make packaging for the test swabs.

Puritan said only it and Copan Diagnostics, a company in northern Italy, make the specialized swabs needed for coronavirus testing. The two are currently embroiled in a lawsuit in federal court in Maine in which the Italian company alleges that Puritan is violating Copan’s patent on the swabs and is engaged in false advertising.

A pending motion in the 2-year-old lawsuit would put the case on hold. Both sides agree in the motion that they need to focus on making products needed to deal with the pandemic and are asking the court to put a stay on the case.

A second lawsuit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, involves a dispute between Templet and his cousin, company co-owner John Cartwright, over the future of Hardwood Products Co. of Guilford, the parent company of Puritan.

Templet, who filed the lawsuit in February, alleges that Cartwright has obstructed his attempts to modernize and sell Hardwood Products. He has sued to dissolve the business partnership with his cousin, saying the two men have not been on speaking terms for almost two years and are deadlocked on key decisions for the company.

Hardwood is the largest employer in Piscataquis County and is a world-recognized manufacturer of ice cream sticks, toothpicks, swabs, tongue depressors and other wooden food and medical supplies. It has been making white birch products in Guilford since 1920.

The complaint says Templet wants the company to stay successful and profitable, but he needs to sort out an ownership arrangement that no longer works. The ownership dispute should not be allowed to affect normal business for customers and employees, it says.

Templet declined to comment on the status of that lawsuit Friday.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.