As the U.S. grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and a shortage of masks for health care workers and individuals, business owners are pivoting their companies or adding production lines to replenish much-needed protective gear.
Nick Nikkhah and Fabian Conde, co-founders of 3DHQ, temporarily shut down their 3-D printing company in early March because of the pandemic. Then they saw hospitals around the world were running out of parts for ventilators, and suspected something similar could occur in the U.S.
Nikkhah and Conde, based in Kansas City, Missouri, reached out to local hospitals offering their 3-D printed parts for medical devices, but they were asked to make masks instead. They quickly started producing what they call "reasonably high filtration masks," which are reusable, cost-effective, and made from durable PLA and PETG types of plastics.
While their masks haven't been tested by the CDC yet, they are looking into the process, which they say can cost about $10,000. For now, they are in line with CDC guidance for health care workers to use bandanas, scarves, or other "homemade masks" as a last resort.
So far, 3DHQ has received more than 300 orders at $25 per mask. They plan to reinvest the money into their business to increase production, the co-founders said. They want to partner with a larger company that can cover the costs of materials so the masks can be offered for free.
To speed up manufacturing, the startup purchased seven additional 3-D printers, costing about $7,000 in total. "We are trying to find a way to help, and keep ourselves from going under as well," says Nikkhah, noting that 3DHQ earned about $200,000 in revenue last year and doesn't intend to profit from the masks.
From fashion to workwear, clothing companies shift to making masks
In an obvious pivot, many apparel manufacturers have also jumped in to meet the demand for masks.
Durable outerwear outfitter Carhartt, which was founded in 1889 and made uniforms during World War I and II, plans to start producing pleated surgical masks in two weeks, says William Hardy, senior vice president of Carhartt's supply chain.
The Dearborn, Michigan-based company is utilizing its factories in the U.S. and Mexico to make an estimated 2.5 million masks by May, Hardy says. Carhartt has not yet determined who will get the masks and what they will cost, but says it does not intend to profit from the production. Hardy declined to disclose production costs or the company's annual revenues.
Additionally, trendy women's fashion brand Reformation pivoted to mask production after its L.A. factory was temporarily shut when the city initiated a stay-at-home order. The masks could vary in appearance, as the donated fabrics are sourced from various suppliers. To step up production, the company partnered with the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and L.A. Protects--a new initiative that organizes local manufacturers, who were not already in the protective gear supply chain, to churn out non-medical masks. L.A. Protect's goal is to make more than 100,000 masks a week.
"Using our relationships to mobilize other garment and apparel manufacturers to do the same felt like a small but important way Reformation could contribute," co-founder and CEO Yael Aflalo told Inc.com via email. "It's important that we take care of each other right now."
Reformation has been making masks only for a few days, but it can produce up to 25,000 a week, the company told Inc.com in an email. It plans to sell the masks at cost--about $25 for a pack of five. Customers can also purchase masks to donate to workers in essential sectors, medical patients, and non-medical staff in hospitals in L.A. Reformation also declined to disclose production costs or the company's annual revenues.
"Producing masks is just one way the Los Angeles community is rallying around these important individuals, who need and deserve all the help we can give them as they try to remain safe and healthy," Aflalo says.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of Carhartt's headquarters. It is in Dearborn Michigan.