How Companies Shift Operations Quickly to Make Ventilators, Masks

Ian McCue, Senior Associate Content Manager

April 30, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads worldwide, an impressive number of businesses stepped up to help hospitals and frontline medical workers. Most of those efforts have focused on making personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks, face shields(opens in new tab) and gowns, but some are also bolstering the supply of critical medical devices like ventilators.

Companies have changed their operations to manufacture these supplies remarkably fast. And most did so not because the government mandated they manufacture PPE or ventilators, but on their own accord. What inspired these businesses to reimagine their operations, and how exactly did they pull it off? We spoke to several NetSuite customers to answer those questions.

Danby Appliances Assembles Ventilators

When Jim Estill sees an acute need, his first instinct is to personally find a solution. So when Estill, the CEO of Danby Appliances(opens in new tab), heard there was a shortage of ventilators in North America, he immediately asked his team to try to design a version of the machine for production.

The Canadian company, which manufactures products like wine coolers, freezers and fridges, initially developed an automated compressor for bag valve masks(opens in new tab) (essentially manual ventilators). But it quickly realized those bag valve masks have major limitations compared to a ventilator and changed its plans.

Estill reached out to his network and found four partners that, together, could design and manufacture this much-needed medical device. The group calls itself Ventilators for Canadians(opens in new tab) and, with the help of medical device company Baylis Medical, Danby will start assembling ventilators the first week of May.

“It’s an exercise in entrepreneurship,” Estill said. “Like you would not normally say, ‘Oh, I’m an appliance manufacturer, I’m going to make a piece of medical equipment.’ But when you drill into it, [a ventilator] is just a piece of equipment, it’s got 150 parts, not a big deal. We assemble things with 150 parts, why can’t we assemble something with 150 parts that happens to be a little smaller, a few different rules in the assembly, but fundamentally it’s similar?”

Of the products Danby already manufactures, its smart parcel mailbox(opens in new tab), an anti-theft container for package deliveries, is most comparable to a ventilator because it has a lot of small parts.

Danby shut down most of its manufacturing due to coronavirus, but about 100 employees will get back to work to assemble the ventilators. The project is inspirational to staff, Estill said, not just because it’s a “save the world project,” but also because it offers them job security.

Estill expects it will take a few days to train staff on the new assembly processes for these ISO-certified(opens in new tab) ventilators.

“It’s doubly hard because we have to implement social distancing at the same time as implementing a different type of assembly to what we normally do,” Estill said.

Employees will have their temperature taken before entering the building, work in shifts and must follow strict sanitation rules.

The appliance brand plans to assemble 10,000 ventilators over 90 days, which it will send to the Ontario government. The main limitation on production volume is access to parts, which Baylis Medical is sourcing.

Dippin’ Daisy’s turns excess material into masks

Dippin’ Daisy’s(opens in new tab), a women’s swimwear brand in Los Angeles, was ahead of the curve on face masks. The company made a few masks for employees in early March, and owner/CEO Elaine Tran asked her team to bring a few samples to a previously scheduled photoshoot on March 13. She wanted to have photos available in case the virus continued to spread and Dippin’ Daisy’s started making masks.

“I pulled [the masks] out and everyone was shocked,” Rose Montoya, creative director at Dippin’ Daisy’s, said.

But not long after the shoot, the company was producing masks and those photos were on its website.

The manufacturer also supplies swimsuits for several large retailers, many of whom started cancelling orders in mid-March when non-essential businesses closed. So Tran decided to turn that surplus inventory, some of which already had a retailer’s label on it, into masks. Dippin’ Daisy’s created 1,000 masks the first week, 5,000 the second and is now up to 20,000 masks per week after finding more efficient processes.

The brand initially spread the word that it was manufacturing masks on Instagram, and was soon flooded with messages from healthcare workers and high-risk individuals who needed them. It immediately started donating them. Although these are non-medical masks, nurses and doctors can wear them over an N95 mask to prevent contamination of that more protective mask.

When other followers expressed interest in buying masks, Dippin’ Daisy’s started selling masks(opens in new tab) in a variety of colors and patterns online. For every mask sold, it donates one to a first responder.

“People were really eager to just help out the community, which I thought was really, really great, and help support our cause, which is just amazing,” Montoya said.

The switch from sewing swimsuits to sewing masks was not as challenging as it might sound, Tran said. The Los Angeles-based business already had all the supplies it needs to create masks, using spaghetti straps from swimsuits for straps.

“It’s actually a very simple process,” she said. “… The sewing construction of masks is very easy.”

This new initiative has helped Dippin’ Daisy’s retain about 70% of its staff, with a majority of its 120 employees now dedicated to manufacturing masks. Employees must take precautions in their Los Angeles factory – everyone wears a mask (and changes the filter every day), has an empty sewing station between them and the next person, regularly disinfects their machine and table, and must wash their hands frequently.

Dippin’ Daisy’s plans to make 100,000 masks and should reach that goal by the end of May. Although the business has taken a financial hit due to the coronavirus – the spring is its busiest season – it’s committed to doing its part. And the company believes the goodwill it’s created will pay off in the future.

“I’m happy to just support my own workers and my own sewers to keep working here making masks,” Tran said. “It’s going to a good cause and it’s actually helping us marketing-wise for our website. So I’m actually thinking that this is more of a positive gain than a negative gain financially.”

Apparel brands help with mask shortage

Beginning on March 25, apparel company American Giant(opens in new tab) dedicated all its manufacturing resources to making medical masks. The business said it planned to start with 35,000 masks per week(opens in new tab) and increase production from there. For the time being, American Giant is not making any of the men’s and women’s sweatshirts, T-shirts or other items it’s known for at its two North Carolina factories.

“You may experience some out of stocks in the coming weeks, but we trust that you will understand,” American Giant Founder and President Bayard Winthrop wrote(opens in new tab) in a message to customers. “Right now we need masks more than sweatshirts!”

American Giant is part of a group of U.S. manufacturers that joined forces to make HHS-certified masks(opens in new tab).

Customer men’s apparel retailer Alton Lane(opens in new tab) is leveraging its factories in Western Europe and Southeast Asia to make masks from leftover dress shirt fabric. The first 1,000 masks should be ready to ship this week, and the company plans to give them to staff, its local community in Richmond, Va., and customers. The brand has the capacity to make thousands more masks, if necessary.

Alton Lane has already donated 17,000 masks to the Virginia healthcare system – 1,000 for each of its 15 showrooms, and another 2,000 donated by a supplier.

A third clothing brand, Buck Mason(opens in new tab), is also making masks. Buck Mason’s masks will ship in mid-May and, like Dippin’ Daisy’s, it’s donating one mask to a frontline worker for each one sold.

“By increasing quantities of non-medical face masks for civilians, we aim to help ensure that there are enough medical-grade N95 masks available to the healthcare and essential workers who need them most,” founders Erik Allen Ford and Sasha Koehn wrote(opens in new tab).

The Los Angeles-based company hopes to ultimately donate 1 million masks. So far, it has more than 370,000 ready to donate.

Learn about how other innovative NetSuite customers(opens in new tab) are running their business.

For more helpful information from the NetSuite Blog and our friends at Brainyard(opens in new tab) and the Grow Wire(opens in new tab), visit the Business Now Resource Guide(opens in new tab).

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