Manufacturing giant and personal protective equipment (PPE) maker 3M continues to speed production of N95 respirators and other equipment in the fight against Covid-19, with goals to double global production of the N95 respirator for a second time, the company said this week.
In a statement Tuesday, 3M CEO Mike Roman outlined steps the company is taking to increase production of the vital respirators as well as address wider supply chain issues, including delivery and pricing.
Roman said 3M plans to double its capacity over the next 12 months to produce 2 billion respirators globally per year, adding that some of the additional capacity will come online in the next 60 to 90 days. The increase follows a doubling of the company's global output in January to a level of 1.1 billion per year, or 100 million per month. As of March, 3M was producing 35 million N95 respirators per month in the United States and had delivered 10 million to healthcare facilities across the country, he said. The additional capacity will allow 3M to produce 50 million respirators per month in the United States.
"We continue to act with urgency to address this crisis from every angle, and do all we can to protect our heroic nurses, doctors, and first responders," Roman said.
To that end, Roman said 3M is shipping 90% of its N95 respirators to the healthcare and public health sectors, with the remaining deployed to other critical industries such as energy, food, and pharmaceuticals. Of those going to healthcare and public health, he said 80% is "flowing rapidly" through its healthcare distribution network while the remaining 20% is being directed to the federal government, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
An industry-wide challenge
Despite such efforts, Roman says demand for respirators is higher than the industry's ability to deliver, and that 3M and others are working to address new ways to protect healthcare workers, including working with sterilization companies to find ways for hospitals to safely clean, reuse, and extend the life of N95 respirators. The company is also working to boost production of its powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), which are highly specialized and designed for "the most demanding healthcare environments," Roman said.
Challenges extend beyond supply and delivery to pricing, with industry-wide reports of counterfeiting and price gouging. A recent market forecast for PPE products estimates that prices for some items have increased as much as 10 times due to shortages and demand surges.
Roman said in his statement that 3M has not raised its prices for respirators and is taking steps to fight both counterfeiting and price gouging.
"...3M has not and will not raise its prices for respirators in this crisis," Roman said, adding that, "We're actively working with law enforcement, our retail partners, and others to identify and punish perpetrators."