Coronavirus: Combating The Protective Mask Shortage
The number of new COVID-19 infections is continuing to increase and with it also the demand for protective equipment, such as respiratory masks and disinfectant. There is a major shortage in the areas of production and medical supply in particular, where these items are urgently required. Employees from procurement and supply chain at Bayer are ensuring that there is sufficient protective equipment in Bayer production plants and laboratories. Meanwhile, employees at other locations are already producing masks with the aid of 3D printers or manufacturing their own disinfectant – to donate it to the places where it is needed most.
“Normally, I am tasked with transporting active pharmaceutical ingredients and medication to where the demand is,” explains Ömer Kuzugüden, who has been a supply chain consultant in IT at Bayer for four years. But what can still be considered normal during these times in which the coronavirus and its consequences affect every area of life? “I have never experienced anything like this,” says Kuzugüden without hesitation. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, he has been concentrating only on very special goods, in particular, respiratory masks. Together with his colleague Frank Gümmer, he has been heading a nine-person task force for this purpose for the last four weeks that ensures that Bayer is never missing protective equipment.
“Firstly, we have to ascertain regularly from our locations worldwide what personal protective equipment is required on location, what is still available in the respective warehouses, and how high the demand is estimated to be in the next few weeks,” says colleague Frank Gümmer, describing the challenge that the new task force is grappling with. This transparency would be essential to manage the global distribution on this basis.
The team is working very closely together with procurement at Bayer, both in Germany and with the employees in China. Time is the decisive factor in the joint work of the global team: “If we receive an offer from a manufacturer, we have to make a decision within a few hours – the time difference adds to the large volume of work. Our team is currently working day and night,” says Kuzugüden, who is pulling the strings from his desk at home.
Employee safety is vital for companies like Bayer, and protective masks have always been an important part of the protective equipment. “Our products for patients, consumers, and farmers play a crucial role in the supply of food products and essential medication. If our employees in production are not equipped with suitable protective equipment, we cannot safeguard the manufacture of our products,” explains Kai van Laak, head of Health, Safety & Sustainability at Bayer. “Many people depend on these products for survival. That is what motivates us to continue our work to procure masks every day – we know that our work makes a difference and has to be successful, and we know that it helps others,” adds Kuzugüden.
While the 32-year-old supply chain specialist and his team ensure that the needs of production employees at Bayer are met, Bayer is helping others by donating protective equipment to where it is needed.
Over half a million respiratory masks and other equipment, such as protective goggles, have already been donated to various countries, such as China, India, Poland, and Argentina. In Germany, 200,000 masks are being donated to the Red Cross. “We are donating protective equipment and other resources wherever we can to curb the spread of the coronavirus,” says Monika Lessl, who heads Societal Engagement at Bayer. “For this purpose, we are working very closely together with our external partners to provide support where it is needed most urgently.”
Employees at the Bayer location in St. Louis, USA, had a particular stroke of genius. The team is making 400,000 protective masks available in a short amount of time – from the printer. In the Technical Discovery Center in the research and development headquarters at the location in St. Louis, Missouri, in the USA, employees are producing their own protective face visors in cooperation with Stratasys, one of the leading manufacturers of 3D printers. In particular, this should help doctors, nurses, and first aiders to protect themselves from infection because, unlike respiratory masks, these visors also protect the top half of the wearer’s face.
“I was able to get approval very quickly and, within two or three days, we started printing the 3D visors,” explains Chet Barber, Technical Discovery Center Manager at the Bayer location in St. Louis. Employees on location are producing the printed component parts with protective shields and rubber bands and then sending them to local medical institutions in St. Louis that have requested these items. Other regions are then also to receive support. “For me, this is a unique opportunity. We are all working together to make a difference,” says Barber.
Apart from respiratory masks, Bayer also provides support with financial donations. A few weeks ago, Bayer donated 1 million euros to the north of Italy, which is badly affected by the coronavirus. Also, Bayer donates 1 million euros to the alliance "All united against the virus" in France. A donation of 800,000 euros was recently made to the Spanish health system for the procurement of urgently required equipment and hospital beds. Further donations worth more than 100,000 euros include test kits for diagnosing COVID-19 and support for the work that the Spanish Red Cross does in providing emergency aid.
There is also a severe shortage of disinfectant due to the enormous demand. The Bayer employees at the Dormagen location are therefore repurposing a plant to produce disinfectant: The first 10,000 liters have already been handed over to the Cologne professional fire service. The location wants to produce more than 50,000 liters in total and donate it to crisis teams in neighboring cities. This should provide help predominantly to hospitals, medical practices, and nursing homes for protecting patients and employees and curbing the coronavirus.