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Workers begin final preparation for manufacturing face masks April 1 at the General Motors facility in Warren, Michigan. (General Motors/John F. Martin)

Purpose Brand Business Tracker: Manufacturing COVID-19 Health Supplies

Published on September 29, 2020

In meeting the shortage in critical medical supplies, manufacturing businesses were case studies in corporate purpose and brand purpose.

With personal protective equipment (PPE) in short supply, many manufacturing companies rose to the challenge of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. From Ford and General Motors converting their auto plants to the production of face shields and ventilators, to clothing makers like the Gap cranking out essential face masks, manufacturers nationwide helped provide life-saving medical support. 

Companies recognize the crucial importance of corporate purpose and brand purpose to their lasting success. By embracing purpose, companies have become more adaptable, nimbler at seizing opportunities to improve people’s lives. The outbreak of the coronavirus is such a turning point.

As we found in the extensive survey at the heart of The Purpose Report 2020, consumers not only expect corporate social responsibility but identify with environmental, social and governance initiatives. They widely agree (82%) that a brand or corporation is responsible for doing more good in the world than just making a profit. This means that organizations can leverage profound benefits from defining–and living–a purpose, much like other brand positioning initiatives. Respondents feel passionate about interests or initiatives that inspire (59%), compel (44%) or emotionally move them (34%).

Companies that link their brands to defeating the COVID-19 contagion will be well-positioned to leverage positive public perceptions of their brand and products long after the crisis has passed, creating durable associations with their companies as a true purpose brand.

With demand for PPE still outstripping conventional supply, these case studies reveal manufacturers’ extraordinary response to the coronavirus threat.  

Environmental Composites

On Aug. 28, Environmental Composites, a Utica-based manufacturer of stormwater products, received a $772,259 grant from the state of New York to expand production of its N95 face masks. The grant has allowed the company to hire 50 workers and expand production of N95 masks to 6 million per month.

Lacerta 

In April, Lacerta, a Massachusetts-based plastic packaging manufacturer, began producing a face-shield composed solely of PET plastic developed in collaboration with Harvard University scientists. Producing 400,000 face-shields per day at peak production, Lacerta delivered 7 million by Aug. 17.

3M

By the end of June, 3M had supplied 800 million respirators worldwide, half of which were delivered to hospitals and healthcare providers in the U.S. The global manufacturer of industrial, healthcare and consumer products began to ramp up production of PPE in January and has continued to expand output, with annual capacity set to exceed 2 billion by the end of 2020. 

National Safety Apparel

On March 25, National Safety Apparel, a seasoned manufacturer of protective clothing, announced the addition of nonsurgical protective gowns to its lineup of PPE products. By August, the company was producing more than 1,000 gowns per day.

Akervall Technologies

By June, Akervall Technologies, a manufacturer of sports dental guards, had hired 100 temporary workers who were producing up to 16,000 face shields per day. While slowing demand saw the number of temporary PPE workers reduced to 16 by June, the company has continued to produce face shields as part of its production lineup even as regular manufacturing has resumed.

ZVerse

On May 12, 3D printing company ZVerse unveiled a new face shield designed for use by workers in the service industry. The ZShield Flex “utilizes an adjustable neck-mount instead of mounting to the head – a design innovation that makes the shield unlike anything that currently exists on the market.” ZVerse now produces 115,000 face shields per day.

FLEXcon

 In April, FLEXcon, a producer of films and adhesives, repurposed its production lines to manufacture face masks. FLEXcon produced 60,000 face shields in its first two weeks on the way to reaching its target of 1 million face shields per month.

Worker with protective gear at sewing machine.
Ford Motor Co. deploys workers to sew medical gowns at airbag supplier Joyson Safety Systems. (Ford Motor Co.)

United Safety

On April 8, United Safety, a manufacturer of custom seating and fire suppression products, announced that it was reorganizing its production capacity to meet the critical shortfall in personal protective equipment (PPE) endangering healthcare professionals and patients alike. The company is now producing face shields and reusable N95 type masks. CEO Joseph Mirabile made it explicit that United Safety’s coronavirus response is directly aligned with its core corporate purpose and brand: “Our mission, at United Safety, has always been to save lives. This is an extension of our mission that fits with the world today and we’re very proud to do our part to help.  United Safety has always felt strongly about giving back to the community and to our country in as many ways as we can. In this case, we are uniquely positioned to be able to provide lifesaving PPE gear to people we all owe to look at as heroes – doctors, nurses, first responders and so many others fighting this pandemic.”

Cummins and DuPont

On April 6, Cummins and DuPont announced a partnership to use filter technology to aid in the supply of N95 masks. According to Amy Davis, vice president of Cummins Filtration, “Cummins is re-evaluating our supply base and manufacturing capabilities to identify how we can support our healthcare professionals who rely on critical personal protective equipment to do their jobs. Our NanoNet Media can fill a key supply void and help address the mask shortage facing the United States and other countries around the world.” The efforts had started in March, when prototypes using Cummins’ donated materials were assembled by University of Minnesota teams to support local health systems.

Milliken

On April 6, Milliken, a diversified industrial and textiles manufacturer, announced that it has shifted its production capacity to making medical-grade fabric vital to the production of personal protective equipment: “We have focused our development and manufacturing processes to help fight the battle against COVID-19. We began by engineering our existing textiles into medical-grade fabrics for PPE, and we will continue to seek critical solutions as we navigate this uncharted territory as a company, a nation, and a world.” Milliken is positioned as a quality brand, and its commitment to producing medical-grade textiles represents an expansion reflective of a strong purpose brand, as textiles division chief Chad McAllister explained: “Milliken’s trusted reputation and relationships allow us to help fill new and urgent requests. As they manufacture the final PPE products, we can supply them with the protective fabrics they need.”

Raytheon Technologies Corp.

On March 30, days before finalizing its merger with Raytheon Co., United Technologies announced that it would begin producing face shields, with an initial goal to manufacture and distribute 10,000 before the end of April. Leveraging the two companies’ position as defense contractors, the merged Raytheon Technologies Corp. is demonstrating its corporate purpose and brand as a key player in the defense and security architecture of the United States. CEO Greg Hayes connected this purpose brand to the cause of fighting coronavirus,: “It is a different war than anybody has ever fought before, but it’s a war that we’re uniquely qualified to help. …We stand ready to help in any way we can.  We don’t need the Defense Production Act to ask us to act.  All of the people at UTC and Raytheon are focused on this war and winning it.”

Honeywell

Honeywell has responded to the coronavirus outbreak by retooling production capacity to help end the shortage of N-95 masks. Honeywell has repurposed its Phoenix aircraft engine manufacturing facility and is in the process of hiring 500 new employees to make the masks. Its Rhode Island facility has also been retooled to produce masks, which will require a further 500 new hires. Given its business purpose as a producer of industrial safety equipment, it was logical for Honeywell to pivot its manufacturing capacity to producing healthcare safety gear in reaction to the coronavirus shortages. On March 30, CEO Darius Adamczyk made this connection explicit in March 30 comments at the White House: “One of the businesses we are in is protecting the industrial worker. What we’re doing today is we’re repurposing a lot of that equipment to serve the healthcare worker.” This is a strong expansion and adaptation of an established purpose brand that will further strengthen perceptions of Honeywell’s broader business purpose.

Jockey International

Jockey International, a family-owned maker of underwear, sleepwear and sportswear, has committed its manufacturing capacity to fighting coronavirus. In partnership with Encompass Group, its healthcare manufacturing supplier, Jockey will produce and donate 250,000 hospital gowns, vital personal protection equipment currently in short supply in hospitals across the United States. Jockey is also donating 10,000 N95 masks and 10,000 Level 1 surgical masks to hospitals. Jockey’s corporate and brand purpose has been built around ethical business practices and its place as a family-owned business. As COO Mark Fedyk told the Milwaukee CBS affiliate, Jockey’s proactive response, combined with its established purpose brand, may inspire others to contribute further to the fight against coronavirus: “People I think have been inspired that you don’t have to be a worldwide global large company to be able to give back. If a private family-owned company in Kenosha, Wisconsin can make a difference, you can make a difference too.”

General Motors Co.

General Motors has converted two factories to make face masks and ventilators. On March 31, GM began producing face masks for use by frontline healthcare workers, first responders and hospital patients. On April 8, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that GM was contracted to produce 30,000 ventilators under Defense Production Act authority. GM has rallied its global supply chain to the task, encouraging dozens of suppliers to join in the production of face masks. GM has made a clear commitment to supporting the fight against coronavirus, and to keeping frontline workers safe, reinforcing its business purpose and brand purpose delivering “safer, better and more sustainable” ways for people to get around.

New Balance

On March 27, New Balance announced its move to pivot manufacturing capacity to mask production with a splashy Twitter announcement: “All hands on deck. Our U.S. factories are working to develop, manufacture and deliver facial masks to the hospital community.” New Balance developed a stylish, standout design and a down-to-business tagline: “Made shoes yesterday. Making masks today.” But the company is being careful to not seem to be capitalizing on the crisis, promising to deliver all masks at cost or free. It plans to deliver 100,000 per week.

Procter & Gamble

P&G has been highly visible in its coronavirus response. On March 26, the company began retooling production capacity to manufacture a range of essential safety products that have been in short supply, including hand sanitizer and face masks. On March 30, CEO David Taylor spoke at a White House press event, where he highlighted P&G’s commitment to the cause, and reinforcing its corporate purpose: “Everywhere around the world, P&G people are working every day to serve everybody—consumers. And they’re working together to bring together the full capability of our research and development, our engineering, our manufacturing, and our communications capability to make sure we make a difference to the consumers we serve and to all the audience that we can make a difference to.  I want to thank them and I’m very grateful for what they do every day in service to others.” P&G also expanded production at its toilet paper factory, working to meet the mounting shortage.

Diamond Brand Gear

On March 26, Diamond Brand Gear, a tent and outdoor gear manufacturer, announced that it was collaborating with the Carolina Textile District to repurpose its manufacturing plant to serve as a cutter and sewer of needed personal protective equipment. The company has also offered local authorities and hospitals access to its Wall Tents for Rapidly Deployable Mobile Shelters for emergency uses.

SylvanSport

On March 26, SylvanSport, manufacturer of outdoor gear and travel trailers, announced that it was working with state and local officials to produce needed personal protective equipment. The company has acquired hundreds of thousands of N95 masks and thousands of Tyvek suits, which it has distributed to local healthcare providers and hospitals. SylvanSport also made Rapidly Deployable Mobile Shelters available for use as emergency shelters. According to president Tom Dempsey, the company felt obligated to shift from non-essential manufacturing in light of such overwhelming need: “We make campers. We’re not saving the world, so we said really early, let’s be responsible,” said Tom Dempsey, president of SylvanSport, which manufactures camper trailers from its 60,000-square-foot factory in North Carolina and sells them internationally.

MyPillow

On March 25, MyPillow announced that it had shifted 75% of its production capacity to manufacturing cotton face masks for use at hospitals. The company has put 90% of its sewers to work on the project and plans to keep producing masks at a rate of 50,000 per day for as long as the crisis persists. MyPillow’s corporate brand has been tied closely to the personality of founder and CEO Mike Lindell, who has established an explicit brand purpose and promise based on MyPillow’s “made in America” manufacturing practice. Lindell hammered this point home at the White House: “I am proud to manufacture our products in the United States, and I’m even more proud to be able to serve our nation in this great time of need.”

Flowfold

Flowfold, a manufacturer of outdoor equipment (including backpacks, totes and rugged wallets), announced on March 24 that it had pivoted all of its manufacturing operations to the production of face shields: “We have a flexible, technologically advanced factory, which includes a large, material cutting machine that usually allows us to rapidly prepare pieces of fabric for bags and wallets. Now, along with all our other machinery, it will help us produce large quantities of protective face shields for the health care workers fighting the virus.” Flowfold has spent a decade building a purpose brand based on a corporate purpose defined by environmental sustainability, quality. On April 9, COO James Morin explained how Flowfold’s reliance on domestic manufacturing made the transition easier: “The benefit of being domestic, the benefit of being made-in-America right now, is around agility and speed like that. So we weren’t relying on international vendors who couldn’t ship right now or couldn’t work in manufacturing sites right now.”

Ineos

On March 24, Ineos, a British chemical manufacturer, announced that it would partner with the NHS to build two new factories in just 10 days, which would be dedicated to the production of hand sanitizer. On April 2, the company announced plans for a third new factory, this time in France, which will produce one million bottles per month. Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of Ineos, said: “It is becoming more and more evident that contact between the hands and the mouth is an important cause of contagion of Coronavirus. Ineos is the largest European manufacturer of the basic ingredient of hand sanitizer. We will build three factories; in the UK, Germany and France in 10 days to produce very large reserves.”

Gap Inc.

On March 24, Gap announced via Twitter that it would contribute its production capacity to the effort to close the gap in personal protective equipment: “Our teams are connecting some of the largest hospital networks in Calif. w/ our vendors to deliver PPE supplies while we pivot resources so factory partners can make masks, gowns & scrubs for healthcare workers on the front lines.” Clothing manufacturers have come under increasing scrutiny for unsustainable manufacturing practices and waste, as well as worker exploitation in international supply chains. Committing its production resources to the fight against coronavirus has given the Gap a historic opportunity to adapt its purpose brand with an ethical, community-focused response to the epidemic.

Nike

On March 24, Nike CEO John Donahoe announced that the company was in the process of prototyping protective face shields for nurses and doctors, and was working with leaders from Oregon Health & Science University to determine how best it could help. On April 4, the shoe and sportswear maker issued a press release with an update on its efforts: “Nike’s version of the full-face shield transforms elements of the brand’s footwear and apparel into much-needed PPE. Collar padding once destined for shoes is repurposed; cords originally earmarked for apparel reconsidered; and, most important, the TPU [polyurethane] component of a Nike signature—the Nike Air soles—reimagined.” Nike is reinforcing its purpose brand by focusing on commitment to providing critical equipment, while highlighting its innovation and manufacturing expertise.

Kitsbow

On March 23, Kitsbow, a North Carolina-based cycling apparel manufacturer, began producing face shields at scale, and expects to produce 26,000 in response to a massive backlog of demand. After receiving a DIY face shield design in an email from Stanford alumni on March 19, founder Zander Nosler set the company to adapt rapidly to the needs of producing personal protective equipment.

Ford Motor Co.

After receiving a plea from the Mayo Clinic, Ford executives issued a call to action on March 19, mobilizing its workforce to address the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage. The automaker started with face shields—vital to preventing disease transmission—and by April 13 had produced 3 million face shields. Adrian Price, director of global core engineering for vehicle manufacturing, spoke to the Detroit Free Press about Ford’s commitment to purpose: “In times of crisis, it is incumbent upon every citizen to do what they can—whether it’s stay at home and socially isolate or leverage skills in different ways and help.” Ford has also geared up to produce full-face masks, COVID-19 test kits and medical gowns from airbag fabrics. The automaker has not missed the purpose branding opportunity, leveraging the #BuiltFordProud hashtag and tagline to highlight its contributions to combating the epidemic.

Inditex (Zara)

Inditex, the world’s biggest fashion manufacturer and retailer, has been forced to reckon with the full force of the coronavirus. The owner of Zara is based in Spain, a country hit hard by the epidemic. On March 19, the company announced that it would put its factories and logistics infrastructure at the disposal of the Spanish government, and would produce and donate surgical masks for medical workers and hospital patients. Inditex shipped 300,000 surgical masks by the end of March.

Prada

On March 18, Prada began producing surgical masks and medical overalls at its Perugia factory for use in Tuscan hospitals. On March 23, the luxury goods manufacturer and retailer announced an expanded commitment: “In this historic moment of extreme emergency that Italy and Veneto are experiencing, it is our moral duty to support our doctors and nurses, working every day at the forefront in the fight against an invisible yet so fearful enemy, which makes us all equal, vulnerable, helpless. With this donation we also want to express our closeness and our support to all individuals, and their families, who are suffering and fighting against the virus. We must stand firm and scrupulously respect the restrictions. Only in this way, with a responsible behavior, will we be able to defeat this disease and return to our lives soon. We are facing a severe crisis but I am sure that we will rise again, stronger than before.” Deliveries began April 6.

L’Oréal

Responding to the intensifying hand sanitizer shortage, the L’Oréal Group announced on March 18 that it would retool its manufacturing facilities to produce hand sanitizer and hydroalcoholic gel for distribution to hospitals and consumers across Europe. The La Roche-Posay will target healthcare organizations, providing hydro-alcoholic gel to hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies. The Garnier brand will handle the consumer distribution channel, and will deliver millions of units to existing European retail clients. CEO Jean-Paul Agon expressed the company’s commitment to solidarity in these challenging times: “In this exceptional crisis situation, it is our responsibility to contribute in every possible way to the collective effort. Through these gestures, L’Oréal wishes to express its appreciation, support, and solidarity with all those who mobilize with extraordinary courage and abnegation to fight against this pandemic.” Attaching the Garnier brand, already one of the most recognizable in the world, to safe and pure hand sanitizer gel, is especially brilliant, as it will further strengthen its reputation for quality and its recognition as a purpose brand.

LVMH

On March 16, LVMH announced that its perfumes and cosmetics division had been repurposed to produce hand sanitizer, which it is donating to the French government to support its resource-strapped hospitals. The company has committed to the long-haul, promising to continue production free of charge for “as long as necessary.” The manufacturing and bottling plant available to LVMH made the transition relatively streamlined. Additionally, on March 24, LVMH secured 40 million face masks from a Chinese manufacturer, which have been brought to France to combat its mask shortage.

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