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Taking action

March 30th, 2020 / By: / COVID-19, Feature, News

The textile industry moves quickly to provide critical supplies to fight COVID-19.

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab. Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, the story has changed daily and even hourly. The textile industry has galvanized to respond to the need for medical masks, hospital gowns and other textile applications. In some cases, manufacturing facilities shuttered due to the crisis, were quickly reopened to make desperately needed masks and other products.   

It is clear that the textile industry has an important role to play in addressing critical needs. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), crucial in keeping doctors and nurses safe from infection, is the most immediate need that the medical textile sector faces. Materials suppliers and end-product manufacturers alike have stepped up with offers to fast-track production, share information and contacts, and donate goods to hospitals and other entities on the front lines fighting this virus. 

FEMA posts PPE call

Recent government action includes a call for PPE from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has posted a new solicitation for personal protective equipment and medical supplies. Products identified include face shields, gown coveralls, face masks, and gloves. FEMA will receive offers to supply through September 25, 2020.

Businesses should submit a price quote under the COVID-19 PPE and Medical Supplies Request for Quotation. Solicitation requires registration with the System for Award Management (SAM) in order to be considered for award, pursuant to applicable regulations and guidelines. Registration information can be found at www.sam.gov. Visit www.fema.gov/coronavirus/) for more information. 

Organizations work together

The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) was among the organizations that moved quickly to establish industry-wide resources. The banding together of industry organizations has established a united front for the larger industry and created a communication network that stands support the virus-fighting effort, and benefit participants, as well. 

IFAI created the COVID-19 Resource Center (www.ifai.com/COVID-19/), which offers regular updates of news stories and resources concerning government and agency information, financial information, textile industry news, IFAI member updates, and available products, services and equipment. These topics are organized in an easily accessible format. 

The Medical Textile Sourcing Center, opened by Americas Apparel Producers’ Network (AAPN) was accessed by nearly 1,000 people within 12 hours of its opening last Sunday (March 22), AAPNetwork executive director Sue Strickland reported. Messages continue to be posted by the dozens every day. 

“One U.S. mill that had closed on Friday, because of lack of work, reopened yesterday [Sunday] to respond to requests for production—in part from a resource we announced on Sunday,” Strickland said. “This … center … works.”

These are just a few examples of the information sharing that is underway on the site:

  • An awning manufacturer and custom sewing shop has a good supply of aluminum to construct shelters
  • A business, that customarily makes fabrics for cargo control lashings, lifting and rigging slings and hydraulic hose, offers its help
  • A cut and sew facility able to produce large quantities of medical protective garments and vinyl shelters/curtains 
  • A producer of fishing tackle bags is the father of a nurse who has been asked to make her own masks at home. He wants to help find the right material for the masks.

Through IFAI’s ongoing partnership with AAPN, IFAI offers the service to its members and network, as well. (Visit https://www.ifai.com/2020/03/24/take-part-in-medical-textile-sourcing-center/ for instructions on how to access the forum.)

SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, has launched the Coronavirus Small Business Resource Center, a central hub of up-to-date information and best practices for small business resilience. The free resource center includes financial support resources, live and on-demand educational content and access to remote mentoring. (www.score.org/coronavirus)

Competitors become collaborators

Also on March 22, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) and IFAI announced that a coalition of American apparel brands and textile companies, responding to the urgent call for medical supplies, came together to build a supply chain virtually overnight for the manufacture of medical face masks to help hospitals, health care workers and citizens battling the spread of the disease. 

Parkdale Inc., a large yarn spinner business headquartered in North Carolina, helped lead the effort to build the coalition with six other companies to set up a manufacturing supply chain and begin ramping up production of the masks. The coalition consists of brands that are often competitors, such as Hanesbrands and Fruit of the Loom, who are joining together in the effort. American Giant, Los Angeles Apparel, AST Sportswear, Sanmar, America Knits, Beverly Knits and Riegel Linen are also part of the coalition.

The companies are dedicating their assets, resources and manufacturing capacities to create a high output of face masks. Once fully ramped up in four to five weeks, the companies expect to produce up to 10 million face masks per week in the U.S. and in Central America.

Dr. Peter Navarro, assistant to the President and director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, worked with the coalition and helped expedite the production of these masks. The first face masks have been approved by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. President Trump had invoked the Defense Product Act (DPA) on March 18 to speed up and expand the supply of resources from the country’s industrial base, particularly to increase the production of medical supplies and equipment. 

IFAI and other U.S. textile/nonwoven associations have urged the U.S. government to deem manufacturing facilities “essential.” In a joint statement issued March 19, IFAI, NCTO and the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDA) said, “We are asking the administration and state and local authorities to provide greater certainty and clarity for our companies and employees and ask for a clear exclusion of our manufacturing operations from ‘Shelter in Place’ orders as the textile and nonwoven products that we make in the U.S. play an essential role in mitigating the shortages of critical supplies. Such a designation will help us avoid disruptions of vital goods and services during this challenging time.”

Independent action

The companies noted above represent a few of the businesses that are stepping up to participate in producing necessary products. Many companies are pitching in on their own to ease the burden during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Sourcing Journal reports that Milliken & Co., for example, said it has increased domestic production of its BioSmart fabric, which integrates anti-microbial protection into the most common medical products like scrubs, lab coats and privacy curtains. Manufactured in the U.S., BioSmart fabric is available through Prime Medical. 

Jay Hertwig, senior vice president of global sales and marketing at Unifi Inc. said the company continues to receive orders from customers and its plants are still running and supplying yarn, fiber and other Unifi products to its manufacturing partners who make supplies for medical first responders, the military and the food packaging industry. 

BarcoâUniforms announced its pledge to donate 10,000 scrubs each month for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic to health care professionals treating patients who have been infected. Donations will be prioritized and distributed based on requests made by health care teams, the company says, who submit a scrub donation request on Barco’s website (https://www.barcouniforms.com/).  Scrub donations include all seven of Barco’s brand collections, including Barco OneTM, Grey’s AnatomyTM and SkechersTM by Barco. 

AR Tech, an aerospace and medical equipment manufacturer, announces that its Patient Isolation Transportation Unit (PITU) is now ready for production. The unit encloses individuals suffering from highly contagious diseases like Covid 19, providing a secure barrier between the patient and medical staff. The product is pending final FDA approval but is ready for pre-order.  The company says the initial production rate will be 25 within the first two weeks, followed by the ability to provide up to 75 a day as production is implemented.

Connecting diverse industries

But more expertise is required to pull all the parts together and get the needed products in the hands of health care facilities immediately. Insum, a Montreal software company, launched a global online platform to allow healthcare facilities worldwide to login and post needs for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in response to the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic. 

Companies or organizations willing to donate hand-made products, such as masks, can connect with facilities by entering search data including country and state. Items are mailed or delivered to the perspective facility. Since its launch, the site has been utilized by facilities in Canada, as well as the U.S., Egypt and Philippines. (Access the Insum global online platform here: https://covid19masks.info/webapps/f?p=2222:1::::::

The Electronic Components Industry Association (ECIA, www.ecianow.org) has requested the federal government to include the electronic components industry as an “essential business.” The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), within the Dept. of Homeland Security, received the request Thursday (March 26). 

While it is ECIA’s interpretation that electronic component manufacturers and their supply chains are essential businesses, the CISA guidance document does not specifically mention the industry. The association is actively involved in the e-textiles and wearables segment of the textiles industry. ECIA is made up of the leading electronic component manufacturers, their manufacturer representatives and authorized distributors.