2. Major manufacturer: 3M, Maplewood, Minn.A giant corporation can be more flexible than a smaller manufacturer, but even 3M wasn’t ready for what the pandemic would bring, according to Scott Munson, global healthcare supply chain lead for the company.
“For us, it hit pretty early on with China. We did start to get some large orders from China and
Asia in December. And when it moved to EMEA, things started to explode.”
As the world began to learn how dangerous the virus is and how easily it can spread, the call went out for millions of 3M’s N95 respirators — normally used in industrial settings — to protect healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19. The masks are designed to filter out 95% of airborne particles.
3M started to work with existing and new suppliers to increase the volumes of supplies the company needed. It also had to increase production staff and boost speed and output from its existing equipment while reducing waste in the supply chain, Munson said.
3M was able to scale up distribution fairly quickly, in part by shipping directly from its plants to customers rather than going through a distributor, he added.
The company also learned that neither it nor its customers had enough inventory to meet the pandemic-fueled demand, even though Munson had worked with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in recent years on planning for a pandemic.
“It’s not an easy calculation,” he said. “I think this is going to change a lot of people’s thinking in regards to what we do need to be prepared.”
3M learned to look at its pandemic response from the standpoints of resilience, risk mitigation and global presence. The company had a great deal of cooperation from throughout the world but learned never to underestimate the need for surge capacity or for good communications.
“An absolutely critical piece of this… Make sure that you are very collaborative with all your partners” Munson said. “Go out and see them before these things hit. Have a good relationship before these things happen so when it does happen, we’re in a much better spot.”