Less than two years after making a major purchase, Honeywell International Inc. is selling off processing equipment it had used to increase the production of N95 medical masks.
When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Charlotte, N.C.-based Honeywell increased production of the masks in Smithfield, R.I., and added mask production at an aerospace site in Phoenix.
But now, new machinery purchased for those expansions will be auctioned off beginning Jan. 19. The auction will be conducted by Branford Group of Branford, Conn., and Heritage Global Partners Inc. of San Diego.
"This is a unique opportunity and an unprecedented offer," Branford Director of Business Development Tyler Gardner said in an interview with Plastics News. "This equipment is well maintained and can be used for medical production, as well as automotive or electrical or other applications."
Gardner added that the immediate availability of the equipment is a plus, since waiting times for new equipment currently can range from three to six months or more.
Equipment being auctioned off in Smithfield includes eight complete N95 mask production cells consisting of ultrasonic welding systems, printers and other auxiliaries. In Phoenix, equipment being auctioned off includes 12 complete N95 mask production cells.
Officials with Honeywell could not be reached for comment. The firm announced the N95 production expansion in Smithfield in March 2020 and announced the addition of the Phoenix site for mask production in May 2020. Each of those moves was expected to add 500 jobs at those sites.
A May 2021 report from Medical Design & Outsourcing magazine said that Honeywell was laying off 470 in Smithfield. A June 2021 report from Bloomberg News also reported the Smithfield layoffs and added that Honeywell was laying off 700 in Phoenix.
In those reports, a Honeywell spokesman cited lower demand as a reason for the job cuts.
“We are now seeing a dramatic reduction in demand for N95s in the U.S. as many states are ending or scaling back mask mandates and vaccinations are being widely distributed,” a spokesman told Medical Design & Outsourcing.
“We appreciate the hard work and dedication these employees displayed in helping to protect American front-line workers battling the pandemic,” he added. “The U.S. remains Honeywell’s largest N95 manufacturing operation, and we will continue to deliver PPE to help protect workers on the job.”
Then-President Donald Trump visited the Phoenix site in May 2020 to highlight the need for U.S.-made masks.
Masks made in Smithfield and Phoenix were delivered to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and state and local governments nationwide to support health, safety and emergency response workers. Honeywell officials added at the time that the Smithfield and Phoenix moves would allow the firm to produce more than 20 million N95 disposable masks monthly to combat COVID-19 in the U.S.
N95 masks filter out at least 95 percent of particles in the air, including large and small particles. The masks have several plastic components, including polypropylene fiber mesh.
In August 2020, a Honeywell spokesman told PN that the firm was able to start production in Phoenix and Smithfield in five weeks in a process that could traditionally take up to nine months. The firm also in 2020 added mask production at plants in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.
Honeywell provides materials and products to multiple end markets, including aerospace, industrial, manufacturing and retail. The firm posted sales of $32.6 billion in 2020.
Other firms increasing mask production in the U.S. during 2020 included manufacturing giant 3M, as well as medical supply firms Moldex-Metric Inc. and Medicom Group.
St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M delivered 800 million masks globally and 400 million in the U.S. in the first six months of the pandemic. The firm doubled N95 mask production globally in the first nine months of 2020.
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 PP fiber. The mask's shell and cover both are made of polyester.
Research organization Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, used its Critical Care Decontamination System to decontaminate around 5 million N95 masks for reuse beginning in mid-2020. A Battelle spokesman said the program ended in March.