Dex-O-Tex’s marine division has been involved with the HSNS Mercy and HSNS Comfort since their inceptions as oil tankers in the early ’80s. These ships are now on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Steve Schroeder, vice president for the Dex-O-Tex division of Crossfield Products Corp., joined the CoatingsPro podcast to share about his installation experience on the ships as well as his take on how the pandemic has been affecting the company and industry. A complete transcript is available below.
[This podcast was recorded on April 22, 2020.]
Stephanie Chizik: Steve, thanks for joining us.
Steve Schroeder: Well, thanks for having me.
SC: Do you want to start by giving our listeners a bit of your background in general with the coatings world and also pertaining to the two ships?
SS: Yes. Initially I got involved in coatings at Todd Shipyard when it was in L.A., but I’m sorry, I can’t remember where it was exactly. I got involved initially doing deck coatings and actually installing the materials in the shipyards. From that, I went to NASSCO through a subcontractor, J.E. Steigerwald. They were, at the time, the largest deck covering contractor in the United States and probably the world. They had six locations at major shipyards.
I started doing the work on the deck plates, prepping the substrate then installing at the time. I got to where I was troweling materials on the plates and then doing all the finish work. I went from that to the supervision of the materials about the time the hospital ships were built there.
SC: I just saw the docking. I think it’s the Comfort that’s in New York City. To see it come full circle is probably fascinating for you.
SS: Yes, it really is, because I saw them turn them from tankers into hospital ships. It’s a real miracle, that conversion, what they did there at NASSCO. From there, we’ve done repairs on them ever since.
SC: That’s great. You guys are located in southern California, right? What has life been like in the past few weeks for you guys out there?
SS: Living the dream in quarantine! For me, especially, I’ve been the troubleshooter for the company for many years now, and I’ve been living my life on the road 80 percent of the time. To all of a sudden just be confined to a desk. I was talking to someone the other day, we were talking about, “When was the last time we were at a desk the whole time?” I thought about it, and the answer was “never.”
SC: That’s a big difference.
SS: Usually my desk work was to support my travels and whatever I saw. I’d look at a problem and evaluate it, and then I’d write up — my desk work was writing up a report. Now I’m not writing reports about that. We’re cleaning up everything at Crossfield, you know? Going back and looking through all the documents, making everything congruent, that kind of stuff is what we’re doing. We’re just plugging all the holes that are in our program.
SC: Are all of the people from the head office, or the people like you who are on the road mostly, working from home now? Is it almost 100 percent remote as far as office staff goes?
SS: Office staff I’d say 99 percent. We maintain the switchboard and accounting functions and just supervision. But I was in the office yesterday, first day in two weeks or something like that. The second time since the mandates came down. I go and I change out my workload. There are two people in the office where there’s usually about 12 in the office staff.
SC: That’s a huge difference. It’s a completely different experience. I do understand, from what I’ve heard in the field at least, all of the ships that are owned by the DOD — I can’t speak for commercial ships, and maybe you know a little bit about that — that the DOD-owned assets are still being worked on, that those employees are still being seen as essential. So not a whole lot has changed over there. Is that what you're hearing?
SS: Yes. It’s a little different. The major thing is the temperature checks and the reporting from the subcontractors to the contractors to the Navy. They do the health checks, and if they have any questions then they go through more screenings. Particularly with the outbreak on the Roosevelt and what all went down there, the Navy is very conscientious about the virus, but they’re moving full speed ahead. They’re not slowing down. They don’t want to interrupt their program, especially the availabilities, the scheduling for the availabilities for the ships. There’s definitely a sense in the air.
But the biggest difference with dealing with the government is their administration. NAVSEA, that sort of thing. They only have so many secured lines. So their employees are working from home, and they have availability to secure email, but they’re restricted by the time restraints of so many people needing those remote secured lines. That’s the biggest hold-up right now.
SC: That’s interesting. Just to clarify when you say temperature checks, you mean from the workers themselves, not something like the dew point?
SS: Yes, workers themselves. They go in. The easiest thing for them to check is your temperature. So if you have a fever, you're not allowed access. That’s kind of their front-line response to the screening.
SC: I’ve also seen some of the people on flight decks trying to do social distancing. I think I saw something coming out of Huntington-Ingalls, which is a big contractor over here on the East Coast, and they are switching a lot of the shifts from people who are in the shipyards to try to help spread out the number of people you have to encounter during any given shift. It’s interesting.
SS: I’ve seen that in Newport News, yes. But the thing about social distancing, the same thing as going to the grocery story. You’re going down the aisle and you can try to stay away from everybody, but when you go through the checkout, there’s the checker you're dealing with, there’s you, and the checker that’s in the next aisle behind them, and there’s somebody — it’s just impossible to actually do it, six feet.
SC: Yes, it’s like a little bottleneck.
SS: Exactly. The pinch point or bottleneck, whatever you want to call it, that all these people end up in, there’s no avoiding it. It’s the same thing on the ships, particularly the security. You're going through there, and I don’t mean just the main gate, but particularly when you come up on the deck. Anyway, I think everybody’s trying to maintain safe practices, but it’s really impossible to do everything that they’re recommending.
SC: Absolutely. What are you hearing from your customers, the people you guys work with on the coatings side? Anything positive or negative that seems to be coming out of this so far?
SS: Well, mostly the extra steps. The reporting they need to do about their people. Like I said, temperature seems to be the big indicator for the masses. If you're not within that, you're out already. But then there’s also the coughing. A lot of people at a shipyard, they want to work. Even if they’re not feeling 100 percent, they want to go and get their money. A lot of people, particularly the workers, they don’t want to stop even though they may or may not be infectious. So the government is trying to look for signs for that. If you're coughing a lot, if you have a fever, that kind of thing. There’s a lot of protection in place. The mask, the N95 mask, all the contractors are trying to use N95, but they’re very had to get a hold of these days. That’s the biggest thing.
Other than that, I think the contact is pretty good, because the workers that do our kind of stuff, they’re pretty well protected anyway. They don’t want a chemical getting on them, so they’re wearing long sleeves, they’re wearing gloves and doing all that. But you're on a ship, you're in close quarters. You can’t really social distance. You can do your best, but throughout the day, you're still going to come within that 6-foot contact zone of 20 people.
SC: I think the point you made about them already having PPE is pretty interesting because it is an industry that is already set up with those safety protocols in place. So it’s not something that’s foreign to this industry in general. It’s probably, like you said, a matter right now of supply and demand. The whole rest of the world needs it too right now, more than normal. Are contractors able to get what they need just to do their regular jobs?
SS: I went into our office yesterday. I needed to change out some reference material, workload stuff. Four weeks, I’ve been in the office twice. I went in, and everybody’s practicing the safe practices. We can’t even get the N95 masks, which is usually what we use all the time, in the lab, the samples, wherever we have open materials. I usually keep a little stock in there. I did have a little stock, but I’m down, I have one mask left. I’ve been to Home Depots and Lowe’s and the local Hank’s and ACE multiple times, and I can’t find a mask.
SC: That’s a shame. Are you guys able to get on any of the shipyards now? Is there any need for you to do that? I know there’s usually some troubleshooting or even just helping, making sure everyone has the products they need.
SS: Yes. Thankfully, we’re designated as essential because of our government work and our materials are going out. Usually we don’t go out unless there’s a problem or we’re doing something technical to help plan things. The planning side is kind of nil. We really haven’t been out with somebody to look at a job, to say, “Hey, this is what you need” in a long time. Technically, I can’t think, I can only think of one job that we’ve actually been out on the deck plate to look at a problem, so that’s been under control. And we really haven’t been out there. We probably would have been out on the jobs — over the last month we probably would have been out there about five or six times, but we’ve been out there once for a very specific reason.
SC: Like you said, you've gone from 80 percent on the road, even probably locally, to almost completely at home. That’s a big difference.
SS: Yes, it is. It is a big difference.
SC: Do you see any differences that these changes now might affect the industry in the long term, whether that’s with the DOD assets or maybe the commercial side as well? Dry docking versus a new construction that’s happening? Any changes there that you might see?
SS: Well, change actually is people are going to try to do things more virtual. Things are going to change. It’s going to be a brave new world, as they say. It’s just like after 9/11. We changed and we don’t even think today about what changes we made. It just became a new way of life. I think that’s the whole thing that’s going to happen here. I think it’s going to be, when this is over, there’s going to be this period of time where it’s like a hangover.
We just don’t know what the new normal’s going to be, and we’re going to come out of this fog hopefully sooner than later. It’s going to change from how the society has to live to the financial realization of how that’s going to impact us in our lives and how we will move forward. I think part of society’s going to say, “Let’s get back to exactly what normal used to be,” and part of it’s going to say, “We’re not doing that again. We’re going to find a happy medium there.”
SC: I hope what you said, sooner rather than later. But following the directions that we need to follow at this point. You also mentioned virtual opportunities. A lot of our subscribers are coatings contractors. There’s probably a variety of people who are deemed essential or not. Like us, either stuck at home or able to go to the jobsite. For those who are not able to go to the jobsites right now, do you have any other suggestions or ideas from the industry or outside the industry about working virtually, what they can do right now or words from leaders around the country/industry?
SS: Well, I have different tasks now. I’m probably busier than I am when I’m traveling, or was traveling, in the sense that there’s all these things that come in front of you that need to be done. Particularly all the paperwork. I think now’s the time for people to look at where they’re at. I guess I’m speaking from a company point of view. Now, what we’re doing is looking at those little problems we had. The difference between this document said this and this document said that. Let’s clean that kind of stuff up. Let’s look at housecleaning, I guess I’d call it. We’re going through and tidying up all the little things. Nothing major. This document said 78 degrees to 48 degrees, and this document said 50 degrees to 80 degrees. So we’re going through and cleaning all that up. We’re renewing everything.
From our perspective, it’s an opportunity to go through and get your house in order. We’ve been in business for 80 years and there’s new technology. When new technology happens, we upgrade, and when we upgrade, we’re very quick to put it out on a product description sheet. But maybe we missed something on the SDS or maybe we missed it on our care & maintenance or app specs or whatever. So we’re going through and getting all that in order.
SC: That’s a great tip, taking stock of what’s happening. We’re sort of forced to slow down right now. This is maybe an opportunity we wouldn’t normally have had to do that, to take stock and find those discrepancies — get our house in order, like you said. That’s great. Thank you.
SS: We have a new introspective look at work.
SC: Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. How can people find you or reach out to the folks at Dex-O-Tex if they want to follow up.
SS: It’d be hard for you to believe. I actually just joined LinkedIn. I resisted it for so long because it was like one more place to answer questions. When I first started, what you did is you worked and you came back to work and there were these little pink slips that said, “While you were out, so-and-so called.” It was a wonder you got back to them within a week, everything was good. Then you got a beeper, and you needed to get back with them that day. Then we got text, and you need to get back to them within the hour. So that’s how business has changed.
Like I said, I think the thing that most companies are doing right now is cleaning up their act. We go along day to day, and we accept our flaws because we don’t have time to fix all the little details. Well, we have time now, and that’s what we’ve been doing here at Crossfield. We’ve put together Teams. I didn’t know what a team was on Outlook until three months ago. Now I’m on about five teams. That’s how we’re working. It’s really changed the face of how things are. When things get back to normal — or whatever the new normal is going to be — my biggest thing is I’m a big people guy. Like I said, I’ve traveled most of my career, and you go out, you meet people, you talk to people and work with people.
There’s a whole different dynamic about seeing somebody face-to-face versus a virtual meeting online, like LinkedIn or GoTo Meeting. Particularly when you're doing meetings. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is the online meetings between the owner, the contractor, the subcontractor, the manufacturer, whoever — so you're all on this virtual meeting. It’s a whole different dynamic being on an online meeting than it is being in a real room with all those people. I think that’s going to be more then new norm. People are going to get more used to doing it virtual. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s all that, but it’s not the same as live interaction. I’m curious to see how all that plays out.
SC: Hopefully there’s a blend of some sort. I think you’re right, it helps save, especially travel funds, but at the same time there really is a layer that you're not getting when you can see someone in person. Hopefully we’ll see some sort of blend there moving forward.
SS: The big thing is the nuances of the people in the meeting. If you’ve got 12 people in a meeting, why are they there? Why is each individual at that meeting? It is for a reason, but people are speaking out. It’s just very different. The communication lines, they’re waiting for people to respond, you don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s just a different dynamic.
SC: Let alone then add the layer on there of different cultures, too. We’re talking about an international organization.
SS: Yes. If you go to a meeting and there’s kind of a communication barrier at the beginning and you're live, it’s 10 times that virtually.
SC: So it sounds like people can find you on LinkedIn. Maybe that’s a positive change from you being stuck at home right now.
SS: That and our website, dexotex.com. I’m email@example.com.
SC: CrossfieldProducts.com looks like a good website too to be a starting point for them to either find the Dex-O-Tex Miracote or the Dox-O-Tex Marine products, too.
SS: Yes, for the marine, dexotexmarine.com, and for our commercial line is just dex-o-tex.com. From there, I think we have a pretty good contact area where you can get anybody you need to. Of course, you can always call our offices. We’re still maintaining our switchboards. We’re trying to remain seamless from all the difficulties caused by our situation from our communication point of view and our manufacturing point of view. But we’re no different than anybody else. We’re taking our precautions and that has slowed things down a little bit. But I think we’ve maintained pretty good operations.
SC: That’s great. Definitely everyone over here is wishing you guys to stay healthy and happy. Hope to see you at an upcoming trade show soon, Steve. Thank you so much for your time.
SS: Yes, I hope to see you too. But I think it’s going to be a while for trade shows. We’ve cancelled so many. We still have one — our earliest one still on the books that we haven’t cancelled is MegaRust, which is of course the major trade show for the marine industry and the Navy. They haven’t cancelled yet. Other than that, I think we’ve only got three. We usually do between 30 and 40 trade shows a year between both divisions, Dex-O-Tex and Dex-O-Tex Marine. This year, I think we’re going to do maybe three.
SC: Wow, that is a very big difference. That’s incredible. Well, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it. Have a great rest of your day.
SS: Thanks, Stephanie. We’ll talk to you later.
For more information, contact: Dex-O-Tex, (310) 886-9100, www.dex-o-tex.com
Editor’s note: Listen to all of the other interviews in CoatingsPro’s COVID-19 podcast series.