Makers of personal protective equipment are boosting their efforts as the world continues to grapple with COVID-19.
Sales of garments made of Tyvek-brand polyethylene film, including surgical gowns and containment suits, were up 65 percent at DuPont Co. in the second quarter. That business now makes up almost 30 percent of all sales for the firm's Safety Solutions unit. Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont makes Tyvek garments at plants in Richmond, Va., and Luxembourg.
"We are committed to meeting the needs of our front-line responders and others who need the protective garments," a DuPont spokesman said in an email to Plastics News. "We expect demand to continue for the foreseeable future as local, state and federal governments, as well as institutions such as hospitals, will likely look to rebuild their stockpiles of protective garments."
Honeywell Inc. and 3M both have increased production of N95 masks since the pandemic hit. 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.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Honeywell has added N95 production at plants in Phoenix and in Smithfield, R.I., as well as in the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates. 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, spokesman Eric Krantz said in an email.
"Both facilities have produced millions of N95 masks since they started production in April," he added. "We're producing masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as for a number of state and local governments across the country."
The N95 expansions in Phoenix and Smithfield have created more than 1,000 jobs. The plant in the UAE, which is operated along with aerospace firm Strata, also recently shipped mask No. 1 million.
St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M also has boosted N95 production.
"3M is making more N95 respirators than ever before," spokesman Tim Post said in an email. "Our factories in the U.S. and globally are operating 24/7."
Since the pandemic began, 3M has delivered 800 million masks globally and 400 million in the U.S. The firm has doubled N95 mask production globally since January and is on track to increase that rate to 2 billion per year globally by the end of 2020.
In July, 3M made N95 masks at a rate of more than 50 million per month in the U.S., up from 35 million in March. The firm expects to hit a U.S. rate of 95 million per month by October.
"It's important to note that while we are making more N95 respirators than ever before, the reality is demand will continue to exceed supply for the foreseeable future," Post said. "This is an industrywide challenge, not just a 3M issue."
Research organization Battelle of Columbus, Ohio, recently had its Critical Care Decontamination System (CCDS) pass filtration efficiency and fit-related evaluations through 20 cycles for two different 3M respirators.
According to a 3M technical bulletin, the firm evaluated multiple decontamination processes, including Battelle's, reviewing at least four key aspects of successful decontamination of respirators.
In a news release, Battelle President and CEO Lou Von Thaer said that the Battelle CCDS was developed in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"In 2020, after COVID-19 hit the U.S. and caused exactly the kind of PPE shortage this system was designed to address, CCDS was quickly mobilized as a stopgap measure to alleviate the N95 shortage," he added.
The Battelle CCDS also has been found effective in studies conducted by Duke University and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Battelle CCDS operations are in place at more than 40 U.S. sites. To date, those sites have decontaminated more than 1.8 million masks.
Battelle's CCDS allows N95 masks to be reused. The process can decontaminate thousands of N95 respirators using concentrated, vapor phase hydrogen peroxide. The Battelle CCDS can decontaminate the same respirator multiple times without degrading N95 respirator performance.
In the decontamination process, health care systems collect worn N95 masks each day. The masks then are labeled with a barcoded serial number for tracking chain of custody throughout the process. This procedure ensures that the hospital system receives its own respirators back. The entire process takes three to five days.
Battelle was founded in 1929 and ranks as the world's largest nonprofit research and development organization, employing more than 22,000 at more than 60 locations.