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Precision manufacturers in Maine team up to help make COVID-19 test machines

The project is a good example of the challenging and important work done in Maine’s precision manufacturing sector, which consistently needs more workers.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The front line in the fight against corona virus has been led by nurses, doctors, EMT’s and others in health care. But they need support, and have been getting some of it from two of Maine’s leading precision metal manufacturers.

Kennebec Technologies in Augusta has been making a critical part for the Abbott Laboratories testing machine, used for their rapid response COVID-19 tests. But the company needed expert help, so it called in another Augusta company, KV Tooling Systems, to make special cutting tools that machine aluminum blocks into the finished part for Abbott. 

“We’re proud, very proud something we are working on is going to help others,” Brian Beland, owner of KV Tools, said. “Often we don't know what a final product (we make) will be…but when it goes to something as important as a pandemic fight it makes us sit back and say this is really cool.”

Kennebec Technologies President Wick Johnson said his company moved quickly to get the parts made for Abbott, knowing the serious need for testing. 

“Like many companies, we pulled out all the stops. We have two machines and now a third machine dedicated to these parts,” Johnson said.

Johnson praised the work of KV Tools in making the precision cutting tool needed to make the parts. Beland describes the final product as an aluminum plate with 96 holes, drilled partway through in a very careful pattern —something he says needs to be perfect every time.

 “It can’t be wrong because the tests would come out wrong, we don’t want that, we want the tests to be accurate,” Beland said.

Achieving that level of quality has also been a family effort. Beland’s son, Jake, works with his father at KV Tools, making the cutting tools. His brother Alex works at Kennebec Technologies, operating the machine that makes the Abbott Labs part. 

And there’s another Beland in a related job. Brian’s daughter Jillian just graduated from the University of Maine and is starting work in the medical testing lab at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, which also does testing for COVID-19 and many other diseases. 

Both Johnson and Beland said they’re proud Maine workers are playing a part in getting more people tested. They also said the project is a good example of the challenging and important work done in Maine’s precision manufacturing sector, which consistently needs more workers.

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