The Supply Chain Matters blog continues to do our part in supporting the need for sharing of critical and important information related to multi-industry industry supply chain networks and their collective support to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus global outbreak affecting global wide populations.

In a prior blog published on March 13, we addressed the reality that healthcare related supply chains are indeed the critical link in virus containment.

We observed that in pandemics, virus spread, and safety of human life is predicated on the ability of governments and healthcare agencies to be able to respond with required medical supplies, testing, proper medicines and medical equipment. In the analogy of triage, this is the supply chain that governs the subsequent indirect or direct impacts to all other industry chains.  Covid-19 Coronavirus

As we pen this update ten days later, indeed this has become the reality. In global regions of spreading outbreak, supplies of critical healthcare delivery products are in short supply and now defined as alarming by individual healthcare delivery providers. COVID-19 healthcare related delivery networks among global regions are in danger of collapsing due to lack of critical protection and treatment equipment and supplies.

Here in the United States, efforts directed in securing N95 face masks, various personal protective equipment and respirator equipment come from many dimensions. However, the realities of component shortages among various supply networks are evident, and thus the need for all forms of human and technological ingenuity and creativity.


Protective Masks

One of the largest manufacturers of protective masks, 3M Company, announced over the weekend additional plans to double production in the coming months to an annual rate of 2 billion masks globally. The company is further shipping a reported half a million masks to the critical U.S. outbreak areas of New York and Seattle.  According to a published report from The Washington Post, factories in South Dakota and Nebraska are now producing at the rate of 35 million masks per month, 90 percent of which is being prioritized to healthcare delivery needs.

Reports have indicated that 3M has been able to continue to ramp-up production levels because the manufacturer had previously instituted a sourcing strategy that allowed for in-house manufacturing of many mask components, while a regional based supply sourcing strategy was instituted for the all-important nonwoven polypropylene industrial fabric utilized to produce masks.

To the company’s credit, 3M has not changed the pricing of produced masks, but obviously, cannot control pricing forces related to overwhelming global demand and constrained supply.

Now, as the Defense Production Act has been declared in the U.S., easing regulatory restrictions and red tape, other industry manufacturers are volunteering to aide in the production of face masks by lending their manufacturing and supply chain resources. However, the existing shortage of production equipment and of nonwoven polypropylene needs to be overcome.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier how fabric suppliers such as Pennsylvania based Monadnock Non-Woven LLC has been inundated with requests for huge quantities of fabric from global-wide sources. The company has current plans to triple production to a reported 30 tons per week over the coming weeks. Similarly, other fabric producers as well as filter manufacturers are looking to boost fabric availability.

All of this takes time.

A virtual network of fast fashion and domestic sewing professionals have taken the initiative to produce forms of fabric-based masks to support critical local needs which they are making available to healthcare providers. They each should be applauded. Likewise, apparel companies such as Hanes have come forward to lend a helping hand in production of cloth-based masks.

Thus, becomes the basis of crowdsourcing and innovation, firms large and small, coming together to address a global priority.


Ventilator Machines

Global manufacturers continue to respond to the critical global-wide demand for needed ventilator machines, an unfortunate and deadly consequence of COVID-19 outbreaks. Once again, unprecedented demand meets the reality of currently capacity constrained supply networks.

The Wall Street Journal reports that global manufacturers Medtronic, Phillips, Draegerwerk and Getting are among the largest global suppliers of medical ventilators and respiratory equipment, and each is dealing with the unprecedented demand. We read of a report indicating that the government of Germany placed a recent order with Draegerwerk accounting for the entire annual production capacity of this company.  Manufacturers in China which were disrupted by the initial outbreak are reportedly working to restore production levels but are still assessing the readiness of supply networks.

All of these global manufacturers are actively working to boost production levels but will need additional time and resources.

The global reality is that any commercial global inventory of ventilators is now exhausted, hence healthcare providers must either rely on national strategic or military stockpiles, or the added ingenuity of technology crowdsourcing.

Again, the magnitude of the need has allowed other manufacturers including automotive and high-tech producers to volunteer capabilities to manufacture this equipment, given the availability of needed components.

Likely, the most uplifting aspect of this supply chain news is reflected in a report from NBC News that aired yesterday.

This report depicts how hospitals have turned to virtual crowdsourcing to tap 3D printing and other additive manufacturing services providers to help in some way with critical protection materials.

From the CEO of an Italian based 3D printing start-up who managed to produce 100 ventilator machine valves, to a Liverpool New York based 3D printing firm that produced 300 face shields for local hospitals, technology crowdsourcing is doing what it can to respond to critical needs. Other firms are making available 3D printing procedures for producing N95 masks.

Residents at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are reportedly planning a virtual online open moonshot competition, CoVent-19 to help develop a rapidly deployable mechanical ventilator within 90 days, while other crowdsourcing efforts are being directed on means to be able to allow single ventilators to deliver treatment to more than one patient.

Others are noted as working on centralized readily accessible repositories of documentation related to repair manuals for various medical equipment within hospitals to allow independent technicians the knowledgebase to more readily and quickly repair defective equipment.


Summary Thoughts

While obstacles and challenges remain, the fact that innovators and technologists are willing to come together as a global community addressing common COVID-19 healthcare challenges is a basis of some encouragement.  The supply network for critically needed healthcare delivery protection and treatment needs is hopefully both a physical and digital response, and obviously, more needs to be accomplished in the coming days and weeks.


Bob Ferrari- Executive Editor and Supply Chain Industry Analyst