It was around 10:00 p.m. EST when Pfizer got the call. The USNS Comfort—the massive naval hospital ship stationed in New York harbor—needed an emergency order of sterile injectables. Its first COVID-19 cases were arriving on board.
The Comfort had sailed into NYC to treat non-COVID patients and relieve the burden on hospitals. But as ERs and ICUs overflowed, it had to take COVID cases as well. And the ship wasn’t prepared.
That’s when a manufacturer stepped in. Here’s what happened:
On board: 25 ICU patients arrived from a Brooklyn hospital and required immediate medical attention.
- The doctors on the Comfort needed 9 different medications to treat them, but they didn’t have any in stock.
- Most crucially, they needed the sedatives necessary for intubation, should patients need to be put on ventilators.
- So they called Pfizer.
What happened next: Though not an emergency response team, Pfizer’s Hospital Business Unit came together quickly and worked through the night. Here are a few hurdles they faced:
- Logistics: The medications had to be routed through centers in Tennessee and Wisconsin and then delivered directly to the Comfort.
- Transportation: They chartered two planes on short notice, to ensure same-day delivery.
Within 24 hours of the initial call, 4,100 units of medication arrived on the Comfort, and medical workers could treat the patients on board. Several more shipments would follow in the coming days, after the emergency had passed.
Weeks later, the Comfort left New York City’s harbor with its mission complete, thanks in no small part to a manufacturer. This is how the industry is responding to the pandemic: at short notice, at odd hours, and with a sense of duty.
What’s it like to work in a manufacturing plant during the pandemic? The NAM’s staff photographer took a trip to the Hershey facility in Hershey, PA, to find out. Here’s what he saw.
At the entrance, employees’ temperatures are checked. Either in their cars…
Or upon entering the facility. By then, workers have already put on masks.
All around the facility, workers are sanitizing equipment—from machinery to desks to keyboards. They go through this procedure multiple times a production shift.
Walk into the cafeteria, and you’ll see a new table design—yellow tape shows workers where to sit to maintain a safe social distance.
No more huddles—all meetings take place at a distance.
Below, a trainer and trainee use a two-way radio while social distancing, in order to hear each other over the noise of the machinery.
The control room has some new décor: vinyl sheets, which create clear cubicles around each worker.
Hershey’s chocolate production goes on much like before, keeping America stocked with the famous brand’s familiar treats.
But meanwhile, the company is also lending a hand—by helping to source, store and distribute medical supplies within its community. The boxes below contain sterile exam gloves for the Penn State Health System.
Because it instituted precautions early on, Hershey’s workforce has stayed healthy. As Senior Director of Manufacturing Tim Hinegardner said, “The safety of our team is our top priority and always has been. Hershey made chocolate throughout the Great Depression and two world wars, for both soldiers and civilians. We’ll persevere through this, too.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Protolabs—a digital manufacturer of custom prototypes and on-demand production parts headquartered in Maple Plain, Minnesota—has prioritized the production of medical supplies and is already providing essential products to labs, hospitals and companies across the United States.
The company has seen an influx of COVID-19 related medical components needing urgent production, including test kits, ventilators, shields, masks and respirators. Across the company’s service lines—injection molding, CNC machining, 3D printing, and sheet metal fabrication—over 4 million COVID-19 related parts have been expedited at no charge.
Combating the virus has become the company’s highest priority. “We’re honored to do our part to help fight this virus,” said Protolabs President and CEO Vicki Holt. “We’ve been working nonstop to develop components needed for critical medical supplies, such as ventilators, respirators, test kits and shields, and we put internal protocols in place to prioritize these orders ahead of all others to get critical medical supplies into the market.”
With so many manufacturers working to support the pandemic response, each is attempting to find the best way to contribute effectively. On Protolabs’ end, its proprietary software converges software and hardware platforms, automating the front-end of the manufacturing process and moving parts across a multitude of processes out the door in as little as a day.
“The manufacturing industry has really rallied to produce critical supplies, with companies quickly shifting resources to answer the call,” said Holt. “Due to the exponential growth of COVID-19 cases, the speed of response is critical for our customers and our nation. At Protolabs, we have always prided ourselves on our speed—which enables us to cut new tools and ship parts in a matter of days in order to get them to the people who need them.”
“Manufacturing heroes have been a part of our country’s history since its inception, and that tradition continues today,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “During this crisis and in the future, you can count on manufacturers to lead the way forward.”
Cooley Group, a Rhode Island manufacturer that makes engineered geomembranes, building products and commercial graphics, has taken on many roles in supporting the response to COVID-19.
As a company that already produces items like respiratory vests, blood pressure cuffs and medical bedding, Cooley was well versed in the materials needed to support patients and protect medical staff. As soon as the pandemic hit, it began working on testing and manufacturing medical gowns. Today, their facilities in South Carolina and Rhode Island are producing high-quality Level 3 and Level 4 medical gowns that protect against moderate and high risks—and those gowns are being shipped to medical professionals at a rate of approximately a million square feet per week.
“It took us about two weeks to develop the material, perform full testing and certification and roll it into what is now full-scale production,” said Cooley Group President and CEO Dan Dwight. “We’re shipping this out by the truckload.”
Cooley has also found other ways to respond to COVID-19. According to the company’s leadership, around 70 percent of the billboards in North America are printed on Cooley-produced material. Through a partnership with the Ad Council and outdoor media companies, Cooley has been donating material and services to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other entities that want to use those billboards for public messaging. Currently, there are more than 50 locations around the country where CDC messaging is printed on donated Cooley material.
As with any venture, Dwight’s advice to other manufacturers seeking to make a difference is to find the best application for your organization’s existing skills and assets.
“Our view was, we needed to pick our targeted sweet spots and then put all our effort into it,” said Dwight. “What do you already do well, and how do you apply it? We prioritize innovation, so we knew we could produce something that would be new and creative. We prioritize high performance, so we wanted to focus on higher-end products that take advantage of our capabilities.”
Dwight also believes that the cooperative nature of the manufacturing industry has been helpful in weathering difficult times.
“We’ve always had a collaborative culture, and we know the benefit of sharing best practices,” said Dwight. “Now that collaboration is not about Manufacturing 4.0 or the Internet of Things—it’s about surviving a pandemic. But it’s built into the way we do things.”
“Manufacturers across the country are working tirelessly to make sure that people have the products they need,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “As we face this moment of uncertainty and challenge, manufacturers are showing again and again that we are committed to doing our part.”
As a large manufacturer with employees spread across the United States, Samsung Electronics North America is leveraging its extensive network to help local communities strengthen their responses to COVID-19. The company has already donated $4.3 million in COVID-19 relief to partners in neighborhoods where a majority of Samsung’s U.S. employees live and work. David Steel, executive vice president and head of corporate affairs for Samsung Electronics America, says that the company’s strong relationships with local communities have helped them to distribute that funding effectively—from providing technology to aid frontline workers to assisting school systems with their transition to remote learning.
“We chose to support local needs in the states with our largest workforce—we partnered with organizations that are really on the front lines in those communities, whether they’re food banks or educational organizations,” said Steel. “Our local communities are so important to us, and we wanted to help them through this time of need.”
Samsung has also expedited some of its planned contributions to support teachers and students. Solve for Tomorrow is Samsung’s annual nationwide contest designed to boost interest and proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math among public school students in grades 6-12. Samsung cancelled the final events scheduled for this spring due to COVID-19, but instead of holding the contest, the company was still able to expedite much of the $3 million in technology to the schools involved in order to help them transition to distributed learning programs.
“After 10 years of the Solve for Tomorrow contest, we’ve built close ties with a whole network of STEM education teachers in schools around the country,” said Steel. “We were able to reach out to many of them and understand their needs as they were transitioning to this new way of teaching and learning, and we were able to help with the technology and supplies that would help underserved schools make this transition.”
Samsung has also long been involved in efforts to support manufacturers and STEM education nationwide. The company was a founding sponsor of Heroes MAKE America, a Manufacturing Institute initiative that equips transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses with the skills and certifications they will need for rewarding careers in manufacturing. Samsung’s grant to the program included financial resources as well as laptops and other key technology for its training locations.
“Our philosophy is that a company thrives with its community,” said Steel. “So for us to be successful, we need our local community to be successful.”
“Manufacturers are dedicated to the health and safety of the people who work in our facilities, live in our neighborhoods and rely on us for the necessities they use every day,” said Executive Director of The Manufacturing Institute Carolyn Lee. “We are committed to supporting our employees and our communities—both now and always. Samsung’s local support is a great example of how manufacturers are rising to respond to this crisis.”
Manufacturers nationwide are answering our nation’s call and finding creative ways to support of the COVID-19 response effort—including at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
Adafruit Industries, an open-source electronics hardware company based in New York City, has retooled their facilities to make two in-demand products: personal protective equipment for health care professionals and electronics for critical medical devices. Currently, the company is working with the New York City government as well as care centers like The Mount Sinai Hospital to deliver face shields, but they have also received requests for electronic components of essential medical machines, including motor controls and pressure sensors for ventilators.
In addition to the new products rolling off the assembly line, some of the items Adafruit was already developing are now being repurposed for medical needs. For example, the company produces thermal cameras and imagers the size of a finger that can determine the temperature of what they are seeing with no contact. Traditionally, these cameras are used for controls in heating, ventilation and air conditioning—but today, those sensors are being used in medical devices for contactless fever screening as part of the coronavirus defense.
Adafruit’s founder and owner Limor Fried highlighted the importance of clear communication with employees and staff—and credited Adafruit’s workers with pulling together in the face of ongoing challenges.
“I think that day-to-day consistency and clear messaging and the tools we have—masks, temperature checks, sanitation protocols—it’s just part of the job,” said Fried. “If you have really good people and trust and transparency, you can get the job done.”
Fried is also a 2019 STEP Ahead Honoree, a distinction conferred by The Manufacturing Institute—the National Association of Manufacturers’ workforce and education partner—to recognize women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies. As the head of a 100 percent woman-owned business, she hopes that Adafruit’s role can help inspire young women around the country.
“There are little girls that are scared about what this pandemic is,” said Fried. “But they should know that there’s a woman-owned manufacturer working to combat this virus right in New York City.”
As manufacturers nationwide pull together to create medical equipment and deliver essential products, Fried is confident that the industry will be able to help the country overcome the pandemic.
“This is the epicenter,” said Fried. “But it’s also the epicenter of really tenacious, smart people who are going to see this through.”
“Across the country, the men and women who make things in America are delivering for their communities and their country,” said President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers Jay Timmons. “I could not be more proud of their incredible work or more grateful for their commitment to the cause.”
On April 1, the National Association of Manufacturers and the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council hosted a phone call to discuss best practices for public health and industrial cleaning as part of the COVID-19 response. The call included remarks from Manufacturing Leadership Council Executive Director David R. Brousell; Eli Lilly and Company Chief Financial Officer Josh Smiley; and Ecolab Global Food and Beverage Division Research, Development and Engineering Food Safety and Quality Program Leader Dr. Tatiana Lorca.
Brousell discussed the importance of industrial cleaning to the overall effort against COVID-19, and led a question-and-answer session with participating manufacturers.
“We’re hopeful that the information from this call will help guide your own thinking on ways to protect and defend the people in your plants and factories and in your factory environments,” said Brousell.
Dr. Lorca emphasized there is currently no evidence COVID-19 is transmitted to humans through food or through packaging materials, but cautioned that the virus is new and still has some unknowns.
“The primary route of transmission is person to person, so the best way to protect ourselves, our employees, our families and our communities and customers is to follow standard infection control practices,” said Dr. Lorca. “The good news is that the virus is an enveloped virus, and we know that enveloped viruses are vulnerable to disinfection, which means we can use approved disinfectants to kill the coronavirus on surfaces.”
Dr. Lorca highlighted standard safety practices like properly washing hands and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, including utensils. She explained the difference between sanitizers and disinfectants, the latter of which tend to be more effective for destroying COVID-19 on surfaces. She also encouraged manufacturers to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s publicly available list of products that are known to kill the virus when selecting a disinfectant and to follow the instructions for use posted on the product’s label.
Smiley discussed Lilly’s efforts to protect the supply chain, including the supply of insulin; to keep employees safe and productive; and to address the pandemic by developing a therapeutic antibody with pharmaceutical company AbCellera Biologics, Inc. He also spoke about Lilly’s work to support their community by conducting testing in Indianapolis and their work to keep business moving.
“We’re trying to figure out—all of us—how to keep employees safe and healthy while we carry on our business,” said Smiley. “Lilly’s mission is to make life better for people around the world, and we’ve use that as our guiding principle…Lilly is bringing the full force of our scientific and medical expertise to attack the coronavirus pandemic.”
The NAM is continuing to provide coronavirus resources for manufacturers, connecting businesses with guidance from appropriate government officials and agencies and providing updates on the state of the manufacturing industry.
As businesses nationwide respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Graphic Packaging International (GPI) —an Atlanta-based manufacturer of paperboard and paper-based packaging with more than 80 facilities and more than 19,000 employees worldwide—is demonstrating how the work that manufacturers do is indispensable, not only to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to ensure that families have the essential supplies they need for daily life.
GPI’s products include packaging for N95 respirator masks that protect medical personnel, as well as filter frames for residential and industrial air conditioning, heating and air handling systems, all of which are crucial for frontline efforts against the virus. They also supply packaging for cleaning products and tissue, which are in increasingly high demand during this global health crisis.
Its substantial share of the North American food, beverage and foodservice paperboard packaging market makes Graphic Packaging critical to feeding, hydrating and protecting the population of the United States.
“Before the pandemic, I probably took for granted our role and importance in the essential products value chain,” said Andrew Johnson, GPI’s vice president of government affairs and sustainability. “The pandemic has amplified the importance of Graphic Packaging, as we are vital to ensuring food and other critical products reach consumers across the nation.”
Johnson has three pieces of advice for other manufacturers seeking to perform their critical roles during this uncertain time. First, it is important to keep employees safe and healthy and to provide them with the most current information on how to stay safe on the job and at home. Second, as the ongoing epidemic strains supplies of vital products, manufacturers should look for ways to adjust their existing infrastructure in order to make high-demand products. Third, he says, manufacturers should stay engaged with industry associations in order to provide immediate feedback and help government representatives develop effective policies in real-time.
“The importance of manufacturing has never been clearer,” said Johnson. “Whether the manufacturer is a part of the food value chain or personal protective equipment value chain, they make essential products for our nation.”
Johnson is also confident that his company and others will ensure industries and families have the support they need. “I believe in the innovative spirit of the manufacturing sector,” said Johnson. “When presented with a challenge, we will always step up.”
“Especially in challenging times, the world looks to manufacturers to deliver the products that sustain our industries and our people,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Manufacturers are the engine of this country, and we intend to keep America moving forward.”
As health care workers and other frontline responders across the United States face personal protective equipment shortages, General Motors is stepping up to expand the country’s supply. It is increasing its own production capacity for face masks at its Warren, Michigan, facility. And to ensure that as many manufacturers as possible can ramp up production, GM has shared its mask manufacturing blueprints with its suppliers, as well as the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA). MMA is a state partner of the National Association of Manufacturers, and OESA is a member of the NAM’s Council of Manufacturing Associations.
“Our ultimate goal is to get more masks to the people who desperately need them,” said GM Vice President of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain Shilpan Amin. “And we recognize it would be counterproductive for GM—or any other manufacturer—to compete for supplies with existing medical mask companies. By making GM’s production processes available to the OESA and the MMA, we hope to facilitate other companies’ efforts to bring more materials, more equipment and ultimately, more face masks to the community.”
GM has already donated 500,000 face masks manufactured at the Warren facility to Detroit hospitals. At that facility, GM is adding two new lines—another to make face masks and a new line to make N95-style filtering masks.
“The Michigan Manufacturers Association has 1,700 companies across all industries, and many are looking for ways to help during this crisis,” said Michigan Manufacturers Association President and CEO John Walsh. “GM’s production plans and their willingness to share design specifications will be extremely appreciated as our members accelerate their own efforts to help during this crisis. GM’s efforts are a strong symbol of how manufacturing is driving solutions to solve this crisis.”
As COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the United States, manufacturers nationwide have repurposed existing processes and innovated to develop new ones in order to produce equipment and treatments that will combat the virus and support health care workers.
“Throughout history, the men and women who make things in America have worked to keep our country moving forward,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “In this time of crisis, manufacturers are answering the call.”
Manufacturers can request the Face Masks Informational Blueprint here.
As manufacturers address COVID-19, they’re not only producing critical equipment and everyday necessities. They’re also helping their communities lend a hand. Behlen Mfg. Co., a global leader in steel fabrication based in Columbus, Nebraska, organized local labs with 3D printers to develop printable protective gear for health care workers.
Working alongside the labs at the local middle schools, high schools and college, Behlen is producing protective National Institutes of Health–approved face shields developed by Design That Matters around the clock. With schools closed, principals and staff are coming in during the day and on the weekends to gather completed equipment and reload the machines. Two weeks after they first began discussing the program, the company had already helped to provide 255 shields to local hospitals, another 25 to local dentists and 15 to a local nursing home—with many more on the way.
Behlen also expects to ramp up production. A former employee who is now the director of the plastic injection molding lab at a local college has been working on a more sophisticated mold for the mask’s framework. Once that work is complete, they believe they could cut production time from 2.5 hours per mask to just 20 seconds.
“We need to be leaders out there and think outside the box,” said Behlen Mfg. Co. General Manager for Customer Fabrication Heather Macholan. “All of us in manufacturing have untapped skills—and right now, we need to be innovators even more so than we already are.”
Macholan also spoke from a personal perspective about the work Behlen is doing. As a 2013 honoree of The Manufacturing Institute’s STEP Ahead Awards, which celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and production careers who exemplify leadership within their companies, Macholan is proud to help her company serve as a model for young people who might be interested in working in the manufacturing industry one day.
“It’s a way for me to close the loop,” said Macholan. “Kids who are involved in science, technology, engineering and math programs are seeing from our work that manufacturing can make a difference—even in a pandemic. Maybe it’ll spark some innovation, and maybe it’ll encourage somebody who hadn’t thought about it before to go into those types of fields. To me, that’s what’s most gratifying.”
Macholan encouraged other businesses to use untapped skills and resources to support the effort, whether by rethinking existing processes or coming up with new projects to deliver essential needs.
“Manufacturers are masters of dealing with chaos,” said Macholan. “We know how to think on our feet. We know how to change things to meet the needs of the customers. That’s what we provide—and that’s how we will weather this storm.”
“Innovation is at the heart of what manufacturers do every day,” said National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons. “As we confront this serious challenge, the dedicated efforts of manufacturers across the country are making progress possible.”