By: Darren Garnick

As one of my PTC colleagues put it this week, “If ever there was an ‘Avengers Assemble!’ of engineers, this is it.”

It’s absolutely true.

As the daily media barrage continuously reminds us, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed numerous problems that existed well before the outbreak. America and much of the world were unprepared for an unprecedented pandemic of this magnitude, leaving hospitals with a massive shortage of ventilators, protective masks, gloves and gowns. No story sums up this dire situation more than the nurses at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai West hospital draping themselves in 33-gallon trash bags when there were no more protective gowns.

But some of the world’s biggest companies are now stepping up to address the shortages, quickly retooling their factories to manufacture medical supplies or assigning their engineering teams to create new solutions from scratch.

A few notable examples include:

Dyson, the company best known for its vacuum cleaners and commercial hand dryers, designed and built their own ventilator in just 10 days after being recruited by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The company has committed to manufacturing 10,000 for British hospitals and 5,000 more to export where they are needed.

GM is retooling its Indiana auto components plant to produce up to 10,000 ventilators per month, and is reopening its closed transmissions plant in Michigan to make surgical masks.

Ford has teamed with GE and 3M to use stock car parts to redesign 3M’s Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, which are used by first responders. The upgraded respirators will be manufactured by auto workers in Michigan.

Fanatics, the manufacturer of the official player uniforms for Major League Baseball, has temporarily converted its Pennsylvania facility to make medical masks and gowns. In the first batch, fabric used for Yankees pinstriped uniforms will be used for gear going to New York and New Jersey hospitals, while Phillies material will be used to make gear for Pennsylvania medical professionals.

Bauer, the hockey equipment provider for the NHL, is now manufacturing single-use medical face shields out of material originally earmarked for helmets and protective gear. Resembling a welder’s shield, the devices are meant to protect first responders’ eyes and still require breathing masks underneath. The company has asked other corporations to step up and convert their factories for anti-coronavirus efforts, too.

Gap Inc, Hanes, New Balance and Nordstrom are all retrofitting some of their clothing factories to make medical face masks.

Pernod Ricard, the maker of Absolut Vodka and Jameson Whiskey, announced it would use its worldwide distilleries to produce mass volumes of hand sanitizer. Ditto for Anheuser-Busch. French fashion conglomerate LVMH, parent company of Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, said it would use its cosmetic factories to make hand sanitizer as well.

Many of the companies mentioned above have declared that they are donating their products or distributing them at cost. But it’s not only household brands that are contributing to COVID-19 response efforts. Medium-sized and small businesses are stepping up, too.

Mirroring the parent company of Absolut Vodka, numerous craft distilleries across America are pivoting to produce hand sanitizer for their local police, firefighters, and ambulances. Brad Plummer, a spokesperson for the American Distilling Institute, told The New York Times that many of the small factories are having trouble sourcing enough plastic containers to package the ad-hoc sanitizer. Many participating distilleries are asking the public to bring their own bottles.

Rich Brilliant Willing, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of decorative LED lighting, has retooled its facilities in New York and New Jersey to make 14,000 face shields for first responders and medical personnel.


The company contributed to a new design of the Budmen face shield, pictured above, that reduces the material by 48 percent. This design improvement will now enable manufacturers to produce twice as many face shields using the same resources.

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