Meet the companies manufacturing face masks to plug coronavirus shortages

Author: Thomas Parker

Many fashion labels, including Gucci and Prada, have started to manufacturer PPE equipment for healthcare workers (Credit: Pixabay)

Companies ranging from Gucci to Fiat Chrysler are doing their bit in the fight against coronavirus by manufacturing face masks

Whether it’s the breakdown of global supply chains or a lack of manufacturing capacity, supplies of medical face masks are under threat globally. Thomas Parker finds out how companies and individuals from inside and outside the medical industry are helping to plug the gap caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It was during the First World War that the forerunner of Medline Industries, then a small company set up in 1910 to make butchers’ aprons, began supplying US medics on the frontline with surgical gowns.

Fast-forward a century, and the firm — owned by the same family but now a global player in personal protective equipment (PPE) with a turnover of $13.9bn — is once again at the forefront of a global battle to scale-up production of these vital medical supplies.

Medline’s workforce of more than 22,000 people across the world has ramped up production of face masks, gowns and gloves to help tackle shortages faced by healthcare providers in the fight against Covid-19.

“We are trying to do as much as we can,” says Matthieu Menut, the company’s Proxima preventative care division director in Europe.

“In a matter of weeks, we went from zero to making about 40 million face masks. This might go up to 60 or 80 million, but we’re acting pretty much on a day-by-day basis.

“We’re still monitoring demand, looking at how many of those masks are needed on the market.

“Right now the demand is still pretty high, so there’s no real question behind that, but this can change from one day to another.”

Making surgical masks, Medline’s most popular variety, is relatively straightforward — it’s effectively a case of attaching a piece of string to some cloth — so there’s no question about the ability to upscale production.