Private Sector Ramps up Production to Aid Coronavirus Fight

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Jessica Rinaldi Boston Globe via Getty Images. Courtesy of Time

After days of resisting calls to implement the Defense Production Act, which gives the government the power to require businesses to produce whatever is needed for national defense, President Trump finally called on GM to make ventilators. The company was already negotiating a contract with the federal government, according to the President’s Twitter, when the deal fell apart over quantity and price.

Trade advisor Peter Navarro, who was placed in charge of the DPA’s dealings, said the Trump administration is working with several other big name businesses to ramp up production like Ford and GE. And although the DPA was only used in the case of GM’s failed deal, President Trump said in a White House briefing that it “should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the government to combat this crisis.”

Other companies, however, have not waited around for a government contract or mandate. Dozens of businesses have converted existing factories into ventilator or mask production plants. In some cases, they’ve even rapidly invented new technologies to aid medical professionals.

In the UK, vacuum manufacturer Dyson designed and built a prototype of a new ventilator in ten days. The company’s goal is to supply the British government with 10,000 ventilators. It has not been approved for medical use but workers said that the working prototype has already been tested on humans.

New Balance, and five of its plants in Maine and Massachusetts, is using 37 3D printers to produce sterile medical equipment. The company is working alongside local hospitals and MIT to make masks, swabs, and other supplies at a rapid pace. CEO Joe Preston hopes to move to mass production soon.

But perhaps the largest private sector effort comes from a US coalition of textile and clothing manufacturers producing non-medical grade masks. Nine companies, including Hanes and Fruit of the Loom, are working with the White House and National Council of Textile Organizations to quickly repurpose their existing materials and processes.

 The coalition is utilizing the entire supply chain to mass produce cotton and fabric masks. Although they are not for medical use, the masks have been approved by the Department of Health and hope to save N95 masks for hospital workers.