The makers of medical-grade N95 masks are rapidly adding production in the U.S. while research giant Battelle Memorial Institute is focused on ways to safely reuse the personal protective equipment.
New U.S. Department of Defense contracts will see St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M investing more than $80 million to make another 39 million masks per month in the U.S.
Honeywell of Charlotte, N.C., has repurposed part of an aerospace plant in Phoenix to make N95 masks, delivering the first batch weeks ahead of schedule. U.S. President Donald Trump visited the site on May 5.
Five of the six main components of 3M's N95 mask use some type of plastic. Its straps are made from thermoplastic elastomers, the nose foam is polyurethane and the filter is polypropylene fiber. The mask's shell and cover both are made of polyester.
On May 7, 3M announced it was awarded two contracts through the U.S. Department of Defense in recent weeks to further expand U.S. production of N95 masks.
Officials said that the contracts are a collaboration made possible under the Defense Production Act.
"3M is working around the clock to get much-needed personal protective equipment to the nation's front-line health care workers," Chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in a news release.
The production increase will use new equipment being built in Wisconsin, where production will start in June. The equipment will eventually be relocated to a new expansion at 3M's facility in Aberdeen, S.D.
Ninety percent of 3M's U.S. mask production is going to health care facilities and first responders, officials said. The remainder of the masks are going to critical infrastructure such as food production, pharmaceuticals and energy.
In early April, 3M reached an agreement with the U.S. government that will enable FEMA to import 166.5 million 3M N95 masks into the U.S. from the firm's plants in Asia. In China, 3M expects to increase mask production capacity to 50 million per month. That amount would almost triple the firm's production rate there from 2019.