Jabil Responds to Mask Shortages with Innovation

Charlie Main
Article Contributed By:
Charlie Main
Senior Vice President
Luke Rodgers
Article Contributed By:
Luke Rodgers
Senior Research and Development Director, Additive Manufacturing

Amid an expanding global coronavirus pandemic, a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the most pressing challenges we face. Healthcare workers need N95 masks as they tend to those afflicted with COVID-19, and individuals across the world are wearing protective masks to curtail the spread of the virus. 

Resources are stretched thin as the world attempts to cope with and contain this crisis. In the US, about 90% of PPE in the Strategic National Stockpile has already been distributed to state and local governments.

At Jabil, we are committed to answering the call, having begun to manufacture masks at our facilities in January.  Since then, we have worked quickly to design new mask products, ramp up production of N95 masks for front-line health workers and mass-produce protective masks for Jabil employees and their communities.

A Reusable N95 Mask: Could it Work?

With masks becoming higher in demand and lower in supply, we received a call from one of our customers, requesting Jabil’s help to resolve the N95 mask shortage. As we explored the possibilities, one ambitious idea emerged: why not design an N95 mask that can be sterilized and reused? It had never been done before, but we thought it held tremendous promise for solving N95 mask shortages.

Every time a healthcare professional enters a room with someone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19, they have a certain set of PPE they need to put on and later throw away. Consequently, healthcare workers worldwide are forced to dispose of countless masks. 

The creation of safe, reusable N95 masks, could provide much-needed protection for people on the frontlines of this crisis. The speed at which our people and our partners mobilized was awe-inspiring.

Jabil’s additive manufacturing team in Minnesota worked on the concept with our Taichung team. Taichung would send ideas over by the end of their day just as the Minnesota team was clocking back in. 

Within 24 hours, we had produced a 3D-printed prototype. Within 48 hours, we had gathered constructive feedback and modified the design. After a few more iterations, we produced a functional mask.  

Our team sent prototypes to health professionals in Massachusetts, and the response was positive. Jabil will soon be able to make 30,000 to 50,000 reusable N95 masks per day.  

Accelerating Protective Mask Manufacturing

Since the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan in December, Jabil has kept one priority above all others: the safety of our employees. Although protective masks were not standard for our workers before COVID-19, we quickly realized that wearing them would be necessary to protect employees whose work is building-dependent.

Our Jabil Green Point (JGP) team stepped up to produce masks in China for internal use. These masks, in addition to other health and safety protocols, supported our commitment to keeping people healthy and ensuring they all returned home safely at the end of each day. 

As the virus epicenter has moved globally, our China teams are now producing masks for use across our other global sites, as well. We have installed enough capacity to support all our sites and are now installing more to help support our customers and local communities’ needs. 

In the U.S., Jabil has launched a substantial face mask manufacturing operation to address the demand for face masks and other PPE driven by businesses re-opening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Our factories in Memphis, Tennessee; Clinton, Massachusetts; and Gurnee, Illinois have begun producing what will scale to 1.6 million single-use face masks per day, with the ability to ramp up to over 2 billion per year by fall 2020. Learn more.

Key to Success: Collaboration

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it goes hand-in-hand with collaboration. The success of these projects relied on cooperation across Jabil and with crucial partners in healthcare.

Jabil’s customers have been key in bringing the problems our way in the first place and working together to build solutions. For example, another customer has asked us to help produce large numbers of face shields for hospitals. We are collaborating on a high-volume production plan with the goal of producing, together with our customers, more than 5,000 face shields per week. 

Not only is Jabil as a whole working to make a difference in the communities and countries where we operate, but Jabil employees are also stepping up as individuals to make a difference in their communities and alleviate the stress put on healthcare professionals. Outside of work, one Jabil colleague in St. Petersburg organized the production and delivery of 60 masks and more than 120 face shields to medical facilities, including two in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and one in New Jersey.

This challenging period proves the need for a strong collaboration framework, both as a company and individuals. The only way to navigate a situation no one has ever experienced before is to lean on our collective knowledge and skills. In this case, collaboration enabled Jabil to produce an innovative solution – reusable N95 masks – as well as accelerate the mass production of other masks. This crisis proves what Jabil has always held to be true: our people are our power, and we are better together.