OpBox is busy building its first COVID-19 isolation unit made from recycled plastic bottles at its manufacturing space on Route 1 in Nobleboro.
The company recently received a $225,000 grant — part of the federal coronavirus relief bill — that is allowing it to produce COVID-19-related mobile units, such as testing sites and isolation boxes, and hire new employees.
OpBox produces pop-up commercial spaces, which were mostly for retail and hospitality uses until COVID-19 arrived in mid-March. In response to the pandemic, OpBox shifted its strategy to focus on mobile testing sites and COVID-19 isolation units.
Nobleboro native Ben Davis, who owns OpBox with his sister Emily Davis, said on Tuesday, Dec. 29 that the company received its first order for a COVID-19 isolation unit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. The unit will be used at Sunday River Resort in Newry to house individuals who show signs of COVID-19.
A prefabricated shell arrived in Nobleboro last week. Workers installed Sheetrock and a heating system, and Mid-Coast Energy Systems, of Damariscotta, was onsite wiring the unit for electricity.
The boxes are mostly constructed using a prefabricated material called EcoSIP, which is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. SIP stands for structural insulated panel.
Ben Davis also owns Acadian Composite Materials, which uses new techniques to create the EcoSIP panels from plastic bottles that can no longer be recycled in many places. Approximately 90,000 plastic bottles were used to construct the material for the 8-by-20-foot space that is currently under construction at OpBox’s manufacturing facility.
The material is made into insulated panels that are laminated and chemically bonded together, to build things like homes, decking, and roofing. EcoSIP is surprisingly solid and sturdier than wood, said Sam Novak, an OpBox employee.
Ben Davis said the sturdiness of the EcoSIP allows workers to fasten screws right into the panels, cutting production times for the units.
Novak said that the unit, when finished, will weigh approximately 6,000 pounds and can be hauled anywhere using a regular pickup truck.
The unit will be delivered to Sunday River on Monday, Jan. 4. Ben Davis said that the unit can be repurposed after the pandemic to be used as a mobile unit on top of the mountain for the ski patrol, for injured skiers, or as a warming hut.
OpBox currently has 16 orders for mobile units, not all of which are related to COVID-19. Ben Davis said he is particularly excited about a unit that will be installed in Portland that can connect to a fire hydrant and be used as a mobile shower space for the city’s homeless population.
Ben Davis said that the grant has allowed the company to hire four new employees already and it plans to hire an administrative employee and a production technician.
OpBox recently relocated its manufacturing facility from Aroostook County to the location on Route 1 in Nobleboro, where Ben and Emily Davis’ grandfather ran and grew Hatch Well Drillers for decades.
For more information about OpBox, go to theopbox.com.