As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the world, the list of negatives grows and grows. People are out of work and stuck at home, many businesses have closed, and schools have shut their doors, many for the remainder of the school year. Everything has stopped…everything except the growing number of ill people and the medical professionals and supplies needed to care for them.
The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is staggering, but fortunately, many have stepped up to help mitigate this problem in a variety of ways, including a growing list of companies in the defense industry.
Theodore Roosevelt once said "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are," and that's exactly what these companies are doing.
Strike Industries is making surgical mask covers that extend the useful life of surgical masks for front line medical personnel. The cover is a sleeve that holds a standard surgical mask and is made from 50/50 nylon cotton. It includes its own ear (or head) loops that are more durable than those found on standard, disposable surgical masks. SI is selling the masks at their cost, about $7.
Strike Industry's Danny Chang explains that disposable surgical masks have three layers; two moisture-repellant exterior layers sandwiching an electrostatically-charged inner layer. He says any fluids or moisture that seep into the mask reduces the electrostatic charge in the middle layer and the loss of the static charge over time reduces the masks ability to filter particles.
Strike's cover adds another, water-resistant layer to the front and back of surgical masks that extends the life of the mask by reducing the amount of moisture that reaches it from the interior (the wearer's breath, coughs, and sneezing) and the exterior (spray, splash, and airborne droplets.)
"At a time when supplies for N95 masks and even disposable surgical masks are super low," says Chang, "this is just another barrier/layer to help. I found out from medical professionals that they are supposed to replace disposable surgical masks if it gets wet or every 2-3 hours, normally."
Chang warns, "We aren't saying this mask sleeve/cover is for medical use, but when times are tough, something is better than nothing." Since masks of all types are in short supply and people are being asked to wear them longer than they are normally meant to be worn, covers that extend the life of a mask seem like a good idea. He says he's heard some hospitals are even spraying disposable surgical masks with aerosol cleaners to be reused.
KelTec is 3D printing N99 capable masks to supply local hospitals. One of the company's engineer's, Toby Obermeit, is working with the Medical University of South Carolina to make improvements to their S.A.F.E. mask design, as well as creating a variety of additional cartridge options. These designs will be publicly available to help fill the immediate needs of healthcare and first responders everywhere. The masks, when used with the correct filters, can be of N99 quality, are reusable, and currently feature replaceable Roomba Filters.
"After Toby studied the original S.A.F.E. filter cartridge design, he then optimized it by making it faster and easier to print" said Marketing Manager, Matt Stanek. "He submitted this improved design to MUSC, and officials at the University were so impressed that they asked for help with the next generation mask design."
The Original S.A.F.E. Mask design required cutting and gluing a HEPA filter, however the new designs utilize various Roomba Filters, making them much easier to assemble.
"We've accomplished a lot." said Obermeit. "We've made improvements to the mask itself, as well as created multiple cartridges which take different types of filters. There is even a mask design that has an integrated filter cartridge."
KelTec, meanwhile, quickly repurposed their 3D printers for the N99 quality masks to supply local hospitals.
"Caring about each other, our families and neighbors is in our DNA," concluded Marketing Director Derek Kellgren. "These are difficult times and we have friends, family members, neighbors and customers on the front lines. We're just glad we can be of some help, given how much they're helping us and our communities."
KelTec, known for innovation and performance, is one of the top firearms manufacturers in the world, employing nearly 300 American citizens, many of whom are Veterans.
Links to 3D printer files: Optimization of Filter for Original Design, Next Generation Mask Design, New Designs for Roomba HEPA Filters, Mask Built-in
Mustang Survival is a Canadian company known for its technical apparel solutions for maritime public safety professionals, maritime military, and marine recreational users. They design, engineer, and manufacture life vests, survival suits, and dry suits that are built to withstand even the most rugged marine environments. On April 1st, Mustang Survival launched production of the first 500 isolation gowns. The gowns are a Level 3 certified PPE, fully waterproof, and designed and engineered to bring new levels of safety to frontline healthcare workers.
Increased demand for PPE, there was a need to get ahead of the problem and look to local sources to solve it," says Mark Anderson, Chair of the BC Apparel & Gear Association and Director of Engineering at Burnaby-based Mustang Survival; who, through years of experience in outfitting frontline defenders and public safety teams, is in a unique position to help.
"Our 50 year history of developing innovative solutions for both Military and public safety professionals combined with the unique advantage of being part of a cutting edge design community here in Vancouver provides us with the ability to adjust and pivot our focus on developing a solution," said Anderson.
Nielsen-Kellerman Company designs, manufactures and distributes rugged, waterproof environmental and sports performance instruments for active lifestyles and technical applications, including Kestrel Weather & Environmental Meters, Kestrel Ballistics Meters for long range shooting accuracy, NK Electronics for Rowing and Paddling, and Blue Ocean Rugged Megaphones PA Systems. Nielsen-Kellerman has begun using its facilities and employees to produce face shields for the medical professionals helping to combat COVID-19.
On the first day of its effort, over 250 face shields were produced, with plans to further ramp up production and maximize their donations. When asked about their participation, Alix James, President and CEO of Nielsen-Kellerman talked about how impressed she is with the way American sporting goods and outdoor manufacturers have jumped in immediately to help where they could.
The company's initial effort was to buy the materials and have volunteers from its staff build them. That resulted in around 500 face shields being built and donated to Temple University Hospital and St. Christopher's Children's Hospital. But after talking with the hospitals James discovered the need for PPE was much larger than she'd realized. That led the company to source materials for another 10,000 shields in an effort to build and supply shields for as long as they can.
James says that the PPE shortage will eventually ease as large companies with automated manufacturing systems switch gears, but it takes time for these big producers to shift production. So, in the short term, companies with domestic manufacturing are filling the gap.
"And that is the value of investing in preserving our industrial manufacturing base," says James. "I hope to see us adjust some of our policies in the future to better support American manufacturing – particularly for critical supply chains like medical equipment, drugs and food. We've always emphasized keeping defense production on our shores, but this pandemic has really shown us that other areas are important from a strategic standpoint as well."
Mystery Ranch makes some of the finest packs and load carriage systems on the market, with designs for military applications, wildland fire, mountaineering, and hunting. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Mystery Ranch has stepped up to provide over 250 masks to their local hospital in Bozeman, MT.
Using the materials they already have on hand, and halting all other production, Mystery Ranch is providing Bozeman Health Deaconess staff with masks that are soft, antimicrobial, and breathable. Mystery Ranch has also donated elastic to the Gallatin Quilt Guild who has been spearheading the project.
Outdoor Research makes a lot of different outdoor gear and apparel, including tactical gloves built to withstand rugged environments. During the pandemic, OR has converted their Seattle factory in order to make personal protective medical equipment. OR has committed to producing upwards of 200,000 masks per day. Outdoor Research will be manufacturing ASTM level 3 masks in April/May, N95 masks by May/June, and will immediately begin producing ASTM Level 1 face masks.
"Our 39-year history of rapidly developing cutting-edge Outdoor, Military and Tactical products provides Outdoor Research the ability to quickly shift to supporting the personal protective needs of the medical community," said CEO Dan Nordstrom. "Our entire company is fully committed to ensuring that doctors, nurses, health-care workers and first responders have the personal protective equipment they require to effectively care for their patients. We are working with state and local officials to better protect our employees in this environment as we ramp up production in the following days and weeks."
Versacarry, based out of Texas, is known for its premium leather holsters and other accessories ranging from belts to mag pouches. Effective immediately, Versacarry has chosen to use part of its manufacturing capacity to produce face masks and shields instead of firearms accessories. Versacarry expects to be able to produce in excess of 20,000 units of each product weekly. Versacarry has even placed a contact form on their website so people can request supplies for the organization they work for.
An arm of Smith Optics, its Elite Eye Protection side of the house supplies eyewear and goggles to the U.S. Special Operations community. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the company is working with a crowdsourced donation program called Goggles for Docs to relieve personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages among front line medical personnel across the U.S.
The effort is supported by volunteers and donations to provide ski goggles to health care workers that lack eye protection while treating COVID-19 patients. Smith is currently sending new and used goggles to fulfill hospital requests, and encourages those with time or an older set of goggles to contribute by visiting gogglesfordocs.com.