Tom Kennedy, president of TSI Inc., said the Shoreview-based manufacturer of products that protect health care workers treating COVID-19 patients will be at maximum capacity for the rest of the year to meet greater global demand and deliver backlogged orders.

TSI has seen a near fourfold increase in demand for three such products, Kennedy said: filter testers used to certify that N95 respirators perform to federal standards, instruments that test whether respirators used by front-line health care workers and first responders fit properly, and sensors that monitor air flow in ventilators on critically ill patients.

“We continue to tweak our systems so that we can pick up 10 percent here, 10 percent there,” Kennedy said. “We’re doing everything we can to squeeze out as much production as we can.”

That includes hiring — the company has 500 employees in Shoreview and another 500 in Europe, Asia and China — and adding manufacturing equipment, Kennedy said.

To protect manufacturing employees, TSI had most others begin working remotely in early March, Kennedy said. Multiple shifts now put fewer employees on the manufacturing floor at a time.

TSI designs and manufacturers a wide variety of precision instruments that measure gas flow and atmospheric aerosols, Kennedy said. Two mechanical-engineering graduates from the University of Minnesota founded TSI in 1961. The company developed many of its instruments in collaboration with or under license from the U.

John “Hap” Fauth, president of the Churchill Cos., a private investment firm in Minneapolis, bought TSI in 2000, Kennedy said. Kennedy, who has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering, worked in the medical device industry before joining Fauth in 2005 and becoming TSI’s president in 2006.

Q: When did TSI become aware of the coronavirus?

A: We first started seeing demand for filter testers and ventilator-flow sensors start to go up in January for orders in China. We were seeing the spread and certainly an increased demand in reaction to that spread within China. Then into February we started seeing demand for [respirator fit testers] go up. In March as filter manufacturers and new companies entered that space we saw demand for [filter testers] take off. It’s been kind of phased in, first China and then in the U.S. with [fit testers], flow sensors and then the filter testers.

Q: Where do you see demand for these products going?

A: My sense is that the demand will stay high because you’ll build an inventory going forward so they don’t get caught in this position again. That would be my sense, that demand goes out through the year. I would anticipate that’s because they expect that they’re going to be prepping and replenishing the national base for the next round.

Q: What is the competitive landscape for TSI?

A: It varies business by business. In certain markets we’ll be by far the dominant player. If you were to look, for example, at our research instruments, we hold probably 95% of the world’s citations for scientific studies so we’re the dominant player there. Fit testing, filter testing, we’re dominant. Then you get into other markets, we’re where it’s a little more competitive and we’ll kind of bob in the middle with everyone else. … But in all our markets I would say we’re viewed as the premium performance solution.


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is