The 3-M plant in Aberdeen is the largest producer of N-95 respirators in the United States. The respirators are critical for healthcare workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to a new expansion in Aberdeen, 3-M will produce an additional 70-million respirators each month.
Denise Rutherford is Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for 3M. She says the company enacted surge plans to increase production of N95s as early as January.
“So we hold idle capacity because we know that we have to be able to increase supply relatively quickly. We’ve been there before, as we like to say. Because of hurricanes, wild fires, other natural disasters and, honestly, SARS. We took a lot of the learning from the SARS epidemic and realized we needed capacity that could be brought forward quickly.”
But as COVID-19 spread throughout the country and the world this spring, Rutherford says existing capacity wasn’t enough.
“We put in our own investments to add another line,a dnthen we were fortunate enough to receive money from the Department of Defense for additional capacity expansion. So what we just opened up was the combination of those: both 3M investments as well as investments from the U-S government.”
The expansion adds 120-thousand square feet to the Aberdeen plant…equivalent to a little more than two football fields. Rutherford says this expansion has a big impact on how many N95s the company can produce.
“It allows us almost—in the US alone, to pretty much quadruple our output in these last ten months.”
The 3M factory expansion means an additional 100 new jobs in Aberdeen on top of the 200 added since January. The factory is running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Denise Rutherford says employees receive training on COVID-19 safety on top of other precautions to ensure the virus doesn’t spread within the plant.
“In the plants themselves they are wearing the N95s because of the criticality of those particular operations. A lot of our other 3M locations we’re wearing face coverings but not necessarily N95s. We want to reserve as many of those N95s for healthcare workers as we possibly can, so we’re very very conservative on our own use of that particular product.”
By the end of this year, 3M is expected to produce two billion N95 respirators globally. That triples production since last year.
-Contact SDPB reporter Jackie Hendry by email.