The coronavirus pandemic has seen a host of big brands step outside of their core industries to manufacture much-needed equipment in the fight against the deadly virus.
Those names include Whirlpool Corporation (WHR), Dow (DOW) and Reynolds Consumer Products (REYN), which have teamed up to create respirators with a design that aims displace N95 masks and visors, according to a top Whirlpool executive.
Worldwide, COVID-19 infections have topped 5 million, with over 1.5 million infections located in the U.S.. While new cases appear to be tapering off, frontline health care workers are still in need of personal protective equipment (PPE).
“We started a small team here working to understand, how could we provide something as an alternative to [N95 masks and visors] without stealing from the existing supply chains of those two items?” Christian Gianni, Whirlpool VP of Technology, told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade this week.
“We ended up developing a PAPR [powered, air-purifying respirator]. We didn’t know what a PAPR was at the time,” Gianni said.
“But through a very rapid series of innovations and iterative design with the hospital workers and with our partners, Dow and Reynolds, we came out with the PAPR,” he added.
In just seven weeks, the concept went from paper to approval, and production ramped up to 500 units per a day. Meanwhile, Reynolds is “already close to making us a million hoods,” according to Gianni.
The key difference between a standard issue PPE and the PAPR is a disposable hood, he explained. “Every time they go into a hot environment, they can don a new hood and have a clean one. And that is a very cost-effective hood.”
At the moment, Whirlpool Corporation, Dow and Reynolds Consumer Products are focused on delivering this product to areas where they are located, which include Texas, Louisiana and Michigan. They are currently working 20 hospitals and delivering them to six. The team also plans to donate the first 2,000 units to hospitals.
And while hospitals can inquire about the product at WINHealthLabs.com, Gianni admits he and the team aren’t sure how many are needed at this time.
“If there’s a demand for them, we’ll continue to make them,” Gianni said. “We need to fill our supply chains so we can have the raw materials available to make the products and have continuity of supply.”