How can manufacturers help their workers get tested for COVID-19 and keep their communities safe? Many manufacturers are wondering about this, but information about testing is often unavailable, confusing or soon out of date. So we asked NAM Vice President of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Robyn Boerstling to tell us what’s really going on.
What kinds of tests are available? “The situation changes weekly, if not daily,” warns Boerstling.
- New tests are in development and “coming online with greater frequency,” while the FDA is working to expand their availability quickly. A useful resource: the FDA’s primer on testing basics. The FDA has authorized approximately 113 tests to date.
- Meanwhile, HHS continues to focus on public-private partnerships that send tests to drive-up facilities in parking lots and similar places, she adds. A list of available community testing sites can be found here.
Currently, it’s still very hard for employers to get tests for onsite facilities, and the FDA has warned that tests bought from overseas suppliers may be unreliable. As Boerstling notes, the city of Laredo, Texas discovered that the tests it bought from China for half a million dollars were only 20 percent accurate.
Is anyone verifying the accuracy of these tests? Yes, but the process is ongoing and the FDA is adapting to a rapidly changing environment, says Boerstling.
- This week, the FDA announced a new verification tool for developers to improve testing accuracy.
- “The NIH is working with the FDA to validate existing tests, as well as with private researchers, including a group funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” she notes.
- “Manufacturers should visit the FDA website frequently or check in with the NAM, which is monitoring this issue closely.”
Will the tests be processed in a timely manner? “The time it takes to process a test is changing regularly and depends on the capacity of the lab being used and the type of test,” says Boerstling.
- “Many NAM members have noted uneven lab capacity across the country.”
- As of now, more than 245 labs are currently providing testing under the policies set forth by HHS.
What is the federal government doing about this? Congress has provided aid to boost testing capacity, but its impact will be gradual, Boerstling cautions.
- “The recently enacted $484 billion COVID-19 relief package included $25 billion for broad testing initiatives. Currently, the NAM is working to see how employers fit into this equation,” she elaborates.
- Earlier this month, the administration announced that it sent $11 billion to states for testing support this month, along with about 12 million swabs.
Related: Of course, testing isn’t the only important tool for keeping employees safe. NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons has been stressing the importance of face coverings and other types of PPE as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy. Watch a recent video here.
How do you prevent COVID-19 from traveling through hospitals? Powerful air filtration is essential to stopping the spread, but many hospitals only have these systems in certain areas—like isolation rooms. In cities with the worst outbreaks, there are far more patients than rooms with safe air.
Carrier Global Corporation—a Florida manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as refrigeration and fire and security technologies—used their expertise to help convert normal rooms to air isolation rooms by developing the OptiClean negative air machine.
The specs: Powerful air filtration systems are usually hard-wired, making them impossible to transport. Carrier’s OptiClean device, on the other hand, is unique, featuring:
- A wheeled base, allowing it to be moved to different hospital rooms as needed;
- A cord that plugs into a standard 115-volt outlet, so it can be used in pretty much any room;
- A 100% seal, which keeps unclean air from bypassing the filters—making it as powerful as traditional air filtration systems that are hardwired into isolation rooms; and
- A two-way system that allows it to serve as either 1) a negative pressure machine, drawing in clean air from outside a hospital room while pumping contaminated air into a contained exhaust system, or 2) a “scrubber” in an open-air temporary hospital, by pulling air in, removing contaminants, and sending cleaner air back out.
The timeline: In just two weeks this March, the Carrier team developed a prototype and shipped four models to hospitals across the country for field trials—a process that would ordinarily take up to a year.
The result: Carrier has been producing OptiClean devices since April and has already fulfilled orders for hundreds of units.
What’s next: Carrier is hoping OptiClean devices will be used in homes, businesses, assisted living facilities and elsewhere in future to provide cleaner air and protect vulnerable populations.
Across the country, manufacturers like Carrier are helping people breathe easier.
It started on a Saturday morning when a Wisconsin doctor knocked on his neighbors’ doors, asking for mask donations. Four weeks later, dozens of local organizations had collaborated to design a comfortable, reusable, high-performance mask. Now, the “MaskForce” is rolling out its products across the state and in neighboring regions.
Here’s how it happened: One of the doctor’s neighbors happened to be Pat Masterson, vice president of corporate manufacturing at automotive and mobile equipment manufacturer Husco. Masterson soon brought his company’s resources to solving the problem, but they knew they needed more.
- Through word of mouth, the project’s team developed into a 25-member consortium that included local education groups, industrial manufacturers and frontline medical and emergency response personnel.
- After the group hammered out some concepts, Husco led the design of a high-volume, injection-molded prototype using medical-grade materials.
How it works: The MaskForce team tested hundreds of suitable materials before settling on the best design. Features include:
- Comfort: The mask sports a soft, high-performance and low-pressure face seal that enables easy breathing.
- Re-usability: It uses sanitizable and replaceable components.
- Efficiency: It’s made with 60% less filter material than other mask designs—a big difference, as filter media are in high demand.
The numbers: Today, the MaskForce is producing around 1,000 masks per day, with the goal of ramping up daily production to 10,000 or even 100,000+ masks per day. Currently, it has completed 10,000 of its initial 30,000 production run.
Next steps: Husco is now producing the face mask under the FDA Emergency Use Authorization. It is also seeking certification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, so the mask can be used by multiple industries.
What’s in a name? In case you were wondering, the MaskForce gets its memorable name from a youthful collaborator: Masterson’s 14-year-old daughter.
Husco and the MaskForce team have accomplished in weeks what would typically take months or years to do. It just goes to show—you might be surprised at what can happen when you knock on a neighbor’s door.
Let’s start with a Styrofoam cup. At one of Bradbury Group’s facilities, an employee pointed out a risk: anyone could touch the cups stacked up in the breakroom, potentially leaving traces of COVID-19. So the company installed a cup dispenser instead.
It sounds small, but this decision exemplifies Bradbury’s thorough approach to employee safety. So does another fact: the metal processing equipment company created a 66-page “pandemic handbook” of safety procedures, which includes a guide to good decision-making, for its facilities worldwide.
As businesses of all sorts reopen, they’re searching for best practices like these. So we recently asked Bradbury CEO David Cox for some advice.
First, a hot topic for employers. Do you use temperature checks at your facilities?
- “No, we felt that having 300 people gathering in close quarters at one entrance would be counterproductive. We did our research, and temperature checks don’t seem to be that effective,” says Cox.
- The company keeps infrared thermometers on hand for any workers who feel ill, he adds.
And what about social distancing? Cox says the company has provided face shields or masks to all employees. They must wear those coverings when standing closer than 6 feet to each other.
How do you get information out? Department managers hold stand-up briefings on Mondays (originally Monday, Wednesday, Friday) to keep workers informed, he says, along with a daily safety briefing. Also important: a weekly email briefing from the CEO covering a variety of important updates. .
- It includes the latest safety procedures, infection rates for the surrounding areas, warnings about the tricks scammers are using to steal stimulus checks and updates on tornado season.
How do you keep people safe on the road?
- “We analyze every stop our employees make. Our health and safety coordinator contacts every vendor on a route to evaluate their safety policies—sharing a copy of our handbook when necessary,” says Cox.
- “If they don’t meet our standards, our people don’t go.”
What about incoming shipments from suppliers?
- “We do the same process in reverse—we find out where those drivers go on their routes. If we don’t like what we hear, we have the driver stay in the truck while our employees unload.”
This is how seriously Bradbury takes those restrictions:
- “We kept one routine vendor away for the whole month of April due to an outbreak in their county. We didn’t even want their vehicles in our parking lot, given the anxiety that would create for our employees.”
Let’s move on to cleaning. What are your procedures?
- “We have several dedicated workers walk through the facility to sanitize hard-surface touchpoints, multiple times a shift.”
- “Workers have chlorine spray bottles and wipes for their keyboard and screens, and for any parts they pass from workstation to workstation.”
Meanwhile, Bradbury’s health and safety coordinator, Tasha Schmeidler, is an EMT, which comes in handy.
- She oversees symptom tracking and contact tracing and has full authority to quarantine any workers who may be sick or exposed–with pay if they were exposed on the job.
Lastly, how have your workers improved your protocols?
- “The extra cleaning solution on tables and stations—that was an employee suggestion. They even thought of putting wipes on the inventory pickers, so they could clean items as they took things down,” says Cox. (And, of course, there’s the Styrofoam cups.)
These precautions don’t just keep workers physically safe, but also make them feel comfortable coming to work and confident in their management. As businesses of all sorts reopen, manufacturers like Bradbury are showing them how.
Related: Don’t forget to check out this collection of operational and safety practices, recently released by the NAM’s Manufacturing Leadership Council.
At several facilities in Arizona, health care providers are wearing camouflage-patterned gowns. It sounds too good to be true, but it is: manufacturer W. L. Gore & Associates donated its fabric laminate—normally used in protective outerwear for the military and others—to be sewn into gowns by local apparel manufacturers. In total, Gore’s materials will be used to make 40,000 gowns nationwide, though only a fraction will be patterned.
And that’s only the start. Gore, a maker of everything from medical devices to fabrics to cables and more, is producing a variety of PPE products, including a few new inventions. Here’s a look at how much a single manufacturer is doing during the COVID-19 crisis.
Respirator covers: In less than a week, Gore developed a prototype for a cover that can prolong the use and reuse of N95 respirators.
- An accordion-folded piece of filtration material, with holes punched at either end, the cover is easy to make yet powerful.
- It’s made of proprietary ePTFE filtration laminate, which protects against 99% of aerosolized particles, and can be decontaminated for reuse.
Thousands of covers have been produced so far, and they’re already in use at health care centers across the country.
Respirator cartridges: The company also developed cartridges that can be incorporated into respirators, hoods and ventilators. These work with a variety of designs, whether produced by 3D printing or injection molding.
N95 respirators: Gore is collaborating with other manufacturers to produce respirators, which remain in high demand.
- Multiple manufacturers have developed prototypes with Gore’s filtration materials, which keep out more than 95% of particles at 0.07 microns in size. Currently, all these partners are in the process of obtaining emergency use authorization from the FDA.
And here’s a great number: the company plans to donate enough material to make about 1.5 million N95 respirators.
Engineering services: Gore is providing engineering and prototyping support to hospitals that need new designs or components.
- The company recently made components for face shields, donating 1,000 shields to local providers.
That’s a lot for one company, and there’s more in the pipeline. Manufacturers like Gore prove that the industry is finding as many ways as possible to be of service.
The Manufacturing Leadership Council, a division of the NAM, has unveiled a new online information resource center for COVID-19 operational resources and shared practices. This follows more than 50 days of the NAM and the MLC’s joint emergency collaboration—which not only disseminates crucial information to manufacturers, but also brings them together to learn from each other and lead the country toward a successful recovery and renewal.
What to look for: Among the new online resources, “New Operational Practices to Consider in the Time of COVID-19” outlines practices that can help manufacturers meet or exceed federal guidelines while also reducing operational and business risks.
What it includes: The document covers a range of practices that manufacturers can use to protect themselves and their employees, including:
- Site access practices including restricted visitor access, self-certification questionnaires and temperature screening
- Workstation social distancing measures including barriers, facial coverings and regular cleanings
- Facilities and traffic management to reduce gatherings and the use of high-touch surfaces
- Shift and team design practices to reduce widespread interactions and encourage touchless hand-offs
- Illness or diagnosis response plans like contact tracing and partnerships with community health officials
- Essential travel policies, such as requiring PPE use at remote worksites
- Plans for returning nonessential workers that reinforce protocols and prioritize on-site roles
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons says: “Manufacturers have been on the front lines throughout this crisis, and this guide leverages the experiences and real-world practices that manufacturers across America have put into place.”
The last word: Timmons has a simple message for all Americans, whether they work in manufacturing or not: “Wear a face covering.”
How do you keep health care workers safe during COVID-19? It’s one of the most crucial questions of the pandemic. One manufacturer came up with an answer: build them portable booths that mimic clean rooms.
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope–a company that manufactures glazed products like windows, storefronts, and safety glass—has created a small glass enclosure that shields a health care worker from patients while allowing her to do her job.
The company thinks it could be a gamechanger—by decreasing health care workers’ exposure to the virus and greatly reducing their need for personal protective equipment (along with the time spent changing in and out of it).
How it works: The booth’s modular glass system is easy to clean and assemble. It features:
- Built-in gloves that allow health care workers to examine patients without exposing themselves.
- Positive air pressure to keep outside air from filtering in.
- A powerful filtration system—backed up with the company’s airtight window technologies—that keeps the air inside clean and safe.
How they built it: It was a Herculean effort—the company crammed a development process that normally takes a year into a monthlong sprint.
- On March 23, the idea was hatched.
- Four days later, OBE came up with seven potential designs, then reviewed them until they found the best one.
- Within three weeks, the company had purchased parts, treated materials, and built two working prototypes.
- Less than 29 days after the idea was first discussed, OBE manufactured its first booth.
What’s next? OBE has submitted its designs to regulatory authorities, including the FDA. Once the design is approved:
- Within two weeks, the company expects to start production of its first orders
- With more than 80 locations in the US and Canada, OBE could deploy the technology across North America.
And there’s more…The booth could even feature in the reopening of the economy. OBE has designed a second version for workers who need to be in close proximity without contact, like ticket takers at movie theaters, sports venues and airports.
Here’s another question: what’s one of the most important forces helping to save lives during the pandemic? Answer: manufacturers’ ingenuity.
One Sunday, it was a text message; two weeks later, it was a product ready for shipment. That’s how fast Acuity Brands sprang into action, after realizing that the temporary hospitals opening around the country needed something very basic: good, reliable lighting.
Without exam lighting, doctors and nurses can’t see what they’re doing. And patients need to be able to read books and see their surroundings at night.
Acuity Brands, a maker of lighting products, answered all these different needs with one ingenious design. Its portable healthcare light stand, which meets all lighting requirements set out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Health and Human Services for alternate care sites, includes:
- A medical exam light
- A reading light for patients
- A night light for nurses
- Outlets for charging patients’ smartphones or tablets
- An IV hanger bar that eliminates the need for a separate IV pole
How it works: All of these come together in one package, which can be assembled in under five minutes and folded up for storage or redeployment in a new hotspot.
How they made it: CEO Neil Ashe encouraged employees to “think outside the box” about how the company could aid the COVID-19 response effort, says Mike Montgomery, Vice President of Applied IOT Solution Sales. Here’s what happened next:
- One Sunday afternoon, three engineers exchanged ideas by text message and began sending sketches around for a possible prototype.
- On Monday morning, the design went to the shop for construction.
- On Tuesday afternoon, a working prototype was completed.
- By Wednesday, they’d built a full working unit.
- Less than two weeks later, Acuity Brands had shipped the first 30 units to an alternate care site in Michigan—and two weeks after that, it sent an additional 1000 working units to other sites across the country.
Acuity Brands squeezed a development process that usually takes up to a year into two weeks—and its leaders are using what they learned to streamline the usual processes, making them faster and stronger for normal times.
So far, the stands are already being used in temporary hospitals in Michigan, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. The company also has pending orders for shipments to Mexico and South America—plus 1,000 additional units in inventory ready to ship.
It wasn’t quite the speed of light, but this lighting stand moved pretty darn fast. Manufacturers like Acuity Brands are making the response to COVID-19 faster, safer, more comfortable—and better lit.
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.”