3M taps regional suppliers to meet soaring demand for masks

By Karl Plume

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (Reuters) – Diversified manufacturer 3M Co <MMM.N> has avoided major supply chain disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak by sourcing materials for its protective face masks from regional suppliers instead of far-flung locations, a company official told Reuters.

More than 3,200 people have died from the fast-spreading coronavirus, which has reached more than 80 nations. It has spurred buying sprees on medical supplies like face masks, even as world health officials have warned that citizens generally do not need to buy such supplies, and that stockpiling by the public can put healthcare workers, who do need them, at risk.

3M has ramped up testing and production of single-use N95 respirator masks, designed to filter 95% of airborne particles, along with more robust respiratory protective gear amid the coronavirus outbreak.

So far, the company has not seen disruptions in production, Nikki McCullough, global lead for occupational health and safety at 3M, told Reuters at its global testing lab outside of Minneapolis,

“If we start to see disruptions, we’ll certainly work to alert our customers. At this point in time, we are able to manufacture and we are continuing at capacity for respirators,” she said.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the coronavirus response team in the United States, said on Sunday that the U.S. government is seeking 35 million additional masks per month from 3M. Pence will visit the 3M facility on Thursday.

3M produces all of the components of the filters in its N95 respirator masks in house but sources other materials from regional suppliers, including the straps and metal nose clips that hold the masks in pace, McCullough said.

“Since we have this regional manufacturing model, many of our items are coming regionally. And we’re working with our supply partners very closely to monitor the situation,” McCullough told Reuters.

The company is not currently under contract to produce the masks and is preparing to respond to the government’s request, 3M spokeswoman Jennifer Ehrlich said.

Demand for masks like the ones produced by 3M has outpaced supply as the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China, has spread. The outbreak has riled markets and disrupted global supply chains, largely in export-dependent China.

“The demand is outstripping capacity right now, and we’re working 24/7 to ramp up and be able to meet as much of that demand as we can,” CEO Michael Roman told investors at an industry conference last month.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services intends to buy 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months for the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the nation’s supply of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

(Reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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