One of 3M’s largest manufacturing facilities, located in Aberdeen, South Dakota, has ratcheted up production to try to catch up with the growing demand for its N95 respirator masks.
Since there is no vaccine for COVID-19, the masks provide an important first line of defense in keeping medical and other emergency care employees protected while they tend to the needs of infected patients. At the same time that demand has surged in the medical community, individual consumers have snapped up any available masks for their own personal use, despite the CDC’s claims that healthy individuals need not wear them.
Video Spotlight: 3M ramping up respirator production due to coronavirus (Feb 21, 2020, KSTP)
This post is based on the CNBC article, 3M ramps up N95 respirator production as demand surges from global coronavirus outbreak, by Seema Mody, February 28, 2020; the BBC article, Coronavirus: Sharp to use TV factory to make surgical masks, March 2, 2020; and the YouTube video featured in the Video Spotlight. Image source: Travel mania/Shutterstock.
1. How has 3M been able to rapidly increase its capacity?
Guidance: 3M was not fully utilizing its mask production facility, so it quickly switched from a five-day to a seven-day work week and has its 650 workers working overtime to help meet demand. Meanwhile, it is rapidly hiring new workers, often on the spot, at job fairs to help staff its facility. It is also adding robots to its assembly line to increase efficiencies and produce more masks.
2. What challenges remain, and what other approaches are being taken in global mask production?
Guidance: Despite the uptick in 3M’s output, huge gaps remain between available supplies and both current and future demand. The U.S. government is seeking to increase its stockpile from 30 million to 300 million masks. On top of that, individual consumers as well as those seeking to profiteer from high demand are snapping up any masks that do make it to store shelves. Amazon has been cleaned out of domestically produced masks for at least a couple of weeks, and most store shelves are empty as well.
Some companies have taken more targeted measures to put masks in the hands of those who need them most. America’s largest surgical mask producer, Prestige Ameritech, has halted all future sales to individual purchasers of any size, saving all its planned production for hospital clients.
Elsewhere in the world, creative measures are being taken to utilize other kinds of manufacturing facilities to make masks. Within the next few weeks in Japan, Sharp will begin to use a TV factory to make 150,000 masks per day to help meet demand for the 600 million masks per month that Japan’s prime minister recently promised would be available. Its parent company, Foxconn, has already been making masks at plants in China to be worn by its own workers, hoping to ramp production up to two million per day.