The challenge of meeting unprecedented demand for PPE products possibly is being heightened by complicated medical supply chains, medical market veteran Peter Schmitt said. According to 3M's N95 spec sheet, its masks are "made in the USA with globally sourced materials."
"The market doesn't always recognize the complexity of the supply chain," Schmitt said in a phone interview. "These supply chains are vital, but I think in the case of PPE, they were accustomed to order cycles of 90 or 120 days. If it's your turn, you can't just ramp up your order."
In recent years, according to Schmitt, many medical suppliers have refocused their supply chains outside of the U.S. In the case of N95 masks, Schmitt said that companies "might be getting the filters from one country and the straps from another."
Schmitt, managing director of Montesino Associates LLC in Wilmington, Del., added that just-in-time inventory strategies and a need to hit profit targets might have played a role in medical facilities having low numbers of PPE products on hand when the outbreak hit.
Before the outbreak, the market for medical devices and packaging "had been in great shape," Schmitt said.
According to a report released in early 2019 by Indian consulting firm 360 Market Updates, the global N95 medical masks market was valued at $770 million in 2018 and was projected to reach $1.16 billion by the end of 2025, for an annual growth rate of more than 5 percent.
Other firms with PPE projects underway include:
• Sheet extruder Primex Plastics Corp. of Richmond, Ind., has been working with Reid Health of Richmond and local medical providers to find a way to add protection and to allow the repeated use of N95 masks, officials said on LinkedIn. They've designed the Primex Protect faceshield. Production efforts have begun, with a goal of starting distribution to medical facilities by March 30.
• TradeWinds Services, a manufacturer focused on employing disabled people in Merrillville, Ind., is increasing production of disposable masks and gowns. CEO Jon Gold told a local newspaper that the shift is one step the firm can take to sustain its own business in uncertain times and give back to the community.
TradeWinds was already producing items made of a similar PP material. The firm now is expecting to make as many as 50,000 masks and gowns per month.
• Genesis Plastics of Greeley, Colo., has begun making plastic face shields. The firm designed and built a prototype in a matter of days after being contacted by plastics veteran Noel Ginsburg, who is heading Colorado's PPE task force. "The face shield seemed to be the best way for us to help immediately," sales manager Jake Comer told a local newspaper.
Genesis usually makes packaging and other medical products, but had not previously made a face shield. The firm now is equipped to make more than 50,000 shields per day, working in part with local 3D printing companies.
• 3D printing firm Voodoo Manufacturing of Brooklyn, N.Y., has repurposed its 5,000-square-foot facility to make protective face shields for health care workers and hospitals. The firm aims to print at least 2,500 shields weekly with room to scale its volume of production based on demand, officials said.
Voodoo has sent its first shipment of shields to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which has been hard hit by the outbreak.
• Bridgewater Studio Inc. of Chicago is using machines that normally make storefront displays to make protective face shields, partner Eric Cup told a local TV station. Bridgewater hopes to make about 6,000 face shields per day. The Cicero, Ill., Fire Dept. already has ordered about 1,200.