Making the Minimum Viable Product
April 6, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has radically disrupted the supply chain for any number of necessary medical supplies. Governmental jurisdictions (cities, counties, states, the federal government, not to mention hospitals) are all trying to buy the same finite supply of the same goods at the same time.
For example, N95 masks: 3M is the world’s largest manufacturer of these masks, which, among other things, protects healthcare workers from breathing in the virus while treating patients. 3M has activated all of its surge capacity and is making 1 billion masks this year for domestic and international markets.
Even with the increase in supply, they will not meet the demand. Amazon has restricted sale of this type of equipment so they can be directed to healthcare providers first. And with new guidance from the CDC recommending that everyone wear masks in public, demand continues to rise.
One billion masks per year sounds like a lot; however, that is only three masks for every American per year. There remains an urgent need to increase the total supply available and to allocate masks to places that need them the most.
We recently started working with a company that saw the need for N95 masks and thought that they could do something about it. They used their amazing creative and manufacturing skills to make a machine that makes N95 masks. It’s pretty simple in concept, and except for a few Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining steps, these types of machines are pretty easy to make.
Cummins Filtration is making available N95 media that they usually use for diesel fuel but can also be used to make masks. We connected Cummins Filtration and a local machine maker to work together, and the N95 media will soon be delivered to the local machine maker.
And here’s the critical part. When we know the machine works, and when the masks have been tested to verify that they meet N95 quality standards through Colorado State University, the device will make thousands of masks per day.
The local machine maker will open-source the design. They are making plans freely available to anyone who wants to download them so that they can make and assemble the components and then make their mask making machine. And that’s powerful because there’s no longer a production bottleneck. Anyone who can get the raw materials (which Response4Life can also help with) can now make N95 masks by the thousands. We hope to see local manufacturers repurposing their facilities. Makerspaces are making masks. Each maker and manufacturer will need to make sure their facility meets specific standards of cleanliness.
In all likelihood, each maker or manufacturer will want some of that production to stay within their local community. But some of it can be redirected to the place of greatest need. And with a relatively modest number of these machines installed nationwide, it would be pretty easy to be able to provide national hotspots nationwide with all the N95 masks they need to survive their local peaks.