Industrial giant 3M played a critical role in supplying needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the manufacturer is urging the federal government to take steps to improve and diversify its national stockpile, so that next time the country is better prepared.
"We learned a ton through the COVID-19 pandemic, but we also had a lot of expertise dealing with pandemics before," John Banovetz, chief technology officer at 3M, told Cheddar. "H1N1, SARS, all helped us prepare. We've learned a lot. We learned a lot about the importance of collaboration. We learned a lot about the importance of just being prepared."
In preparing for future pandemics, Banovetz said the U.S. should focus on "management, manufacturing, and mobility." Specifically, a recent report from 3M recommended making sure a national stockpile is "mandated and funded," working with law enforcement to fight fraud and price gouging, and establishing emergency budgets and use authorizations.
He also stressed that the government should strive for supply chain flexibility.
"As a company, for instance, we've prepared our supply chains," he said. "We went to a regional kind of manufacturing model, in which we were able to respond anywhere in the word around PPE requirements or demand for N95s."
3M has also prioritized partnerships, such as those with the Department of Defense, which worked with the company to boost production of needed supplies for the pandemic.
Banovetz explained that 3M did have "some surge capacity" built into its global and U.S. supply chains during the early days of the outbreak, but "nothing prepared [us] for the COVID-19 pandemic that hit and the high demands that you saw in such a short time."
Over the span of the pandemic, the company has supplied over a billion respirators to the U.S. and is currently making 95 million more per month after a significant ramp-up.
"We've quadrupled our production in that short time frame, but demand continues to outstrip supply across the entire industry," he said. "But we're doing everything we can to close that gap and supply the PPE, particularly to the frontline workers and the healthcare workers around the country."