National PPE Programs and Opportunities for Rhode Island Manufacturers

Note: Mary Johnson, formerly Growth and Strategy Manager for Polaris MEP, leads the 401 Tech Bridge and the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network.

The Department of Defense COVID-19 Joint Acquisition Task Force recently organized a “virtual information day” for current and future manufacturers of Personal Protective Equipment. Thanks to COVID-19, most Americans are now familiar with “PPE,” items worn to minimize exposure to hazards that can cause injuries or reduce the spread of infections and illnesses.

Demand for PPE is growing nationwide and the U.S. Government forecasts that demand will remain high for the next two years.

Many Rhode Island manufacturers scaled up production or pivoted to PPE in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. Polaris MEP partnered with the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network (RITIN) to support these companies.

To understand what’s coming next, RITIN leaders sat in on the virtual Information Day and share key take-aways below.

The session made clear the scale of demand and spotlighted specific opportunities to supply PPE to government agencies, which will be buying tens of millions of masks, gowns and gloves annually.

Rhode Island Uniquely Positioned to Be a Leader in PPE Solutions

There are many opportunities for Rhode Island companies to help in reducing reduce our country’s dependency on global sources of PPE.

“Building a stable supply of PPE for government agencies, the medical community and industry is a challenge that calls for collaboration and innovation,” says Michael Woody, chairman of the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network and CEO of Trans-Tex LLC. “Rhode Island is uniquely positioned to be a leader in developing solutions.”

Innovation and collaboration have consistently marked the approach of RI PPE manufacturers. In addition, the state’s growing advanced materials sector is seen as an asset in shoring up domestic PPE manufacturing capabilities.

The use of PPE is expanding as scientific knowledge and CDC guidance evolves. The need for masks, test components, gloves, gowns and more is likely to remain at elevated levels even if the COVID-19 case curve begins to flatten, because:

  • the use of eye covering is likely to increase across a range of jobs;
  • dentists and other medical professionals who used to wear surgical masks are now required to use N95 masks; and
  • non-medical DoD personnel, such as dining facility personnel, guards, etc., are also now required to wear face coverings.

How Big is the Burgeoning Demand for PPE?

The Veteran Administration projects that supplying their 170 medical centers will create an annual need for 25 million N95 masks and 40 million isolation gowns, up from pre-pandemic needs of around 1 million and 1.8 million, respectively.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) has purchased more than 16 million non-medical masks for service members as part of a $1.4 Billion spend on COVID supplies including decontamination, skilled nursing support, ventilators and other critical PPE.

DLA officials are increasingly focused on developing long term capabilities, for instance evaluating a contractor’s ability to meet surge demands. They are identifying critical raw materials and staging them to avoid bottlenecks, and putting PPE in the strategic stockpile while using commercial demand to rotate the stock and reduce waste.

In addition to the above demands, The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that the U.S. will need between 1 billion and 1.7 billion face coverings per month in order to fully reopen the economy.

PPE Opportunities of Interest to RI Manufacturers

The following is a list of key opportunities we spotted during the virtual information session.

  • The Joint Acquisition Task Force Commercial Solutions Offering is collecting information to bolster the industry’s ability to expand domestic production of N95 respirators, surgical masks, reusable respirators and filtration media, non-sterile, powder free, patient examination gloves, and surgical and isolation gowns, reusable or disposable that meet level 2 and above. The deadline to respond is August 3, 2020.
  • Companies that make PPE are encouraged to register with Defense Logistics Agency’s FedMall, the acquisition platform for U.S. military services, federal, state and authorized local governmental agencies. 

The U.S. Development Finance Corporation is collaborating with the DoD to finance projects that increase U.S. production of strategic resources. Companies can submit proposals for projects that will re-shore production or strengthen related domestic supply chains.

For more information, visit the COVID 19-Joint Acquisition Task Force website. It contains helpful information including a FAQ and summary related to these July Virtual Information Days. Read about the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation-Defense Production Act at https://www.dfc.gov/dpa.

Polaris MEP, 401 Tech Bridge and RITIN are available to help Rhode Island manufacturers make the most of these opportunities and become part of the response to the COVID-19 threat.

Call us at 401-270-8896 to discuss your challenges or action plan.

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