Print OEMs and Suppliers Support COVID-19 Efforts
Over the past several weeks, the printing industry has come together in unprecedented ways in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Designated as essential businesses, print service providers (PSPs) have pivoted their production lines to help health care workers, fellow essential businesses, and the general public. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers are also answering the call while supporting their customers’ efforts, from donating equipment and supplies, to offering software subscriptions and new payment plans.
Equipping Those on the COVID-19 Frontlines
Hospitals worldwide are experiencing severe shortages in critical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients, including gowns, face shields, and non-medical and medical masks. Among the manufacturers that have doubled down on their efforts to address this need is 3M, which continues to produce N95 respirators, primarily for health care workers, but also for the food, energy, and pharmaceutical industries. According to the company's website, it has doubled its global output rate to nearly 100 million respirators per month, and expects to produce 50 million per month in the U.S. by June 2020. As it continues to work with governments and potential partners to explore alternatives to expand capacity, 3M has also partnered with Ford Motor Co. to produce more 3M Powered Air Purifying Respirators, and has increased production of hand sanitizers and disinfectants.
Gerber Technology established the Global PPE Task Force, which has united more than 600 manufacturers, technology partners, and industry coalition partners to produce PPE. From production-ready fabrics and cut files, to equipment and service technicians, Gerber and its Task Force partners are supporting manufacturers at every level of the supply chain who are shifting production lines to produce masks, labels, and other PPE.
“Working across the industry in a unique ecosystem of professionals with diverse backgrounds and experiences has allowed us to support manufacturers' conversion to PPE production by providing support for raw material selection, procurement, and technical specifications to finished goods delivery. It is an ambitious initiative, but through a lot of hard work by the team and our partners, it is quickly becoming a powerful engine to drive solid and efficient PPE mass production,” says Mohit Uberoi, CEO, Gerber Technology, in a recent company press release.
As of late April, Gerber also announced it was offering a PPE Retooling Package for manufacturers to efficiently and sustainably ramp up their production lines. The package includes an end-to-end suite of software and a specially configured PPE Edition Gerber Paragon cutter with optimized cutting parameters, enabling the production of up to 150,000 medical gowns and six million non-medical masks per week. The package also includes PPE patterns, tech packs, and a regulatory consulting package for rapid conversion of conventional sewn goods production to PPE.
One fabric supplier collaborating with Gerber is Top Value Fabrics, which has provided customers and partners, such as Spoonflower, with fabrics and templates for producing face masks and hospital gowns, in addition to fabrics for makeshift hospital curtains.
Michael Sanders, TVF’s director of printable textiles & finishing technology, says the printing industry’s response to the pandemic has been amazing, with the mass production of non-medical masks serving as covers to help health care workers’ N95s last longer. He notes how PSPs are utilizing different fabrics and techniques, from warp knits that do not require sewing and can simply be printed and cut, to gaiter masks, often used for sun protection and skiing, that are dye-sublimated and allow for more bunching to create more plies and protection.
While face masks help serve as a cover for health care professionals’ medical-grade masks, they have become an everyday necessity for those not on the frontlines. In addition to 6-foot social distancing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended face masks be worn by the general public to help reduce COVID-19's spread.
“Some want strictly cotton because they think it’s best to have on your skin while polyester will go through more washes and last longer,” says Sanders. “Others are making masks with layers to put filters in. Customers are even using Top Value Fabrics’ double-sided fleece — used for pullovers — to go in between two layers of cotton, which can be washed and reused.”
thelamco, a coating, laminating, and slitting service manufacturer, has been addressing the increased demand for its hook-and-loop fastener materials that secure medical PPE to aid first responders. With its combinations of varying textured substrates, finishes, and weights, the company can meet specific performance demands in this critical time. For example, thelamco can laminate barrier films to non-woven fabric that can be used for medical garment PPE, such as surgical gowns and drapes, along with providing protective films for safe PPE product storage.
Digital printing and production technology manufacturer Durst recently announced it is now producing “community masks” in its demo center at the Brixen headquarters in South Tyrol, Italy. These feature a three-layer structure, with comfortable, washable polyester fleece textile materials, and a filter membrane that can be disinfected with alcohol and reused. Though the filter membrane has a high filtration efficiency and is characterized as having very good air permeability, Durst states the mask is not a protective equipment in accordance with VO (E) 2016/425 or a medical device in accordance with Directive 93/42 / EEC.
Currently provided to Durst Group and sister company Alupress employees, the capacity of masks will soon be made available to other companies, and production instructions will be provided to interested PSPs around the globe through Durst’s branches.
"The announcement of our initiative on social media alone has generated great demand and PSPs worldwide are adapting our concept and thus Durst technology for their productions,” says Christoph Gamper, CEO and co-owner of Durst Group in the press release announcement.
In mid-April, Brother International Corporation announced it was donating up to 100 industrial sewing machines to help those companies increasing their production lines to meet the growing PPE demand. The machines were given to a coalition formed by U.S. apparel brands and textile companies, such as SanMar and Beverly Knits, in response to the White House’s call for faster face mask production. The manufacturer has also donated to Brooks Brothers, which had responded to a LinkedIn request to reopen factories for PPE production.
Another industry collaboration combatting the pandemic is that of graphic overlay and label manufacturer Design Mark Industries and graphic solution provider Nameplates for Industry, which adjusted their manufacturing production lines to launch a new PPE and Safety Gear product category. Already considered essential due to their medical and military-related manufacturing, the companies took just three days to develop prototypes and acquire the necessary materials upon deciding to team up to provide products directly to hospitals, nursing homes, and the government. The first items they offered were adjustable disposable face shields, produced with medical-grade glossy clear polyester and polycarbonate. They also produce signage and floor graphics displaying COVID-19 prevention and social distancing guidelines.
Konica Minolta has shifted many of its offerings for use on the health care frontline and protecting employees in other essential businesses. In addition to testing its MOBOTIX Thermal TR cameras at local New York hospitals to help assess patient symptoms faster, Konica’s Double 2 Telepresence Robots has enabled remote telehealth sessions between doctors and patients. Its Dremel 3D40 printer has been programmed to create and print air-filtering masks, enabling its IT Services Division All Covered’s MacProfessional team to continue helping essential businesses in need of equipment.
In addition to PPE and other measurements for protecting frontline workers, OEMs have been working to ensure health care professionals have the equipment and means to provide the best possible care for COVID-19 patients, from the ventilators that support breathing — also in severe shortages in hospitals worldwide — to trauma center and hospital field cots.
Xerox has teamed up with Vortran Medical Technology to streamline rapid production of the latter's GO2Vent ventilator and related Airway Pressure Monitor (APM-Plus) for hospitals and emergency response units. As long as the necessary parts' supply remains consistent, the companies anticipate producing between 150,000 and 200,000 ventilators a month by June, resulting in a total of one million ventilators in the coming months.
Working in conjunction with fellow northeast Ohio manufacturers, welding technology manufacturer Miller Weldmaster has produced emergency field hospital cots and collaborated with several companies in the mattress prototype development. As of April 21, 5,000 cots had been delivered to New York and Ohio. Additionally, the company has made two of its welders available for near-immediate shipment to fulfill requests for tents, masks, protection gear, prevention signage, and more.
Screen printing and heat transfer equipment supplier RhinoTech has started producing an 80% ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer, with a portion of each purchase donated to Second Hand Harvest, an organization in Minnesota helping to reduce food insecurity among those in need.
With increasing concern around food packaging, Mactac is offering food security labels — designed for pizza box closures, paper bag closures, grocery delivery and pickup, and shipping labels — that are tailored to customers' needs in ensuring food delivery arrives safely to its destination.
3D Printing Addresses Critical Needs
Also focusing on face shield production is large-format 3D printer manufacturer Massivit 3D. With its worldwide network of customers and suppliers utilizing an original face shield design by TwanKerckhofs of ART Nzo — with the file and instructions available on Massivit’s website — its equipment is helping customers produce up to 200 face shields per day each in dozens of countries. Massivit also has the design file and instructions for the Technion Faculty of Architecture & Planning and Design Tech’s 3D-printed foot device currently being produced by its customers. This solution allows for hands-free door opening to help prevent surface contamination.
Similarly, HP has collaborated with its manufacturing community, pooling together experts and resources to produce face shields, adjusters that help alleviate the pain of masks worn for long periods of time, and a hands-free door opener designed by HP Digital Printing Manufacturer Network partner Materialise. As the company continues to coordinate with government, health, industry agencies, and experts in numerous countries to determine the most-needed parts, validate designs, and begin production, its other applications currently in development include FFP3 masks and ventilator components.
Additionally, according to HP’s website, a Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC)-led clinical trial has identified HP 3D-printed swabs for use in COVID-19 testing. The manufacturer developed an investigational 3D-printed nasopharyngeal test swab, designed for use in COVID-19 testing, another critical need across the globe. Testing plays a key role in determining positive case percentages per population and whether cases have sufficiently declined for countries and states to consider easing lockdown restrictions.
HP shared the swab designs with several premier research partners for clinical evaluation, and has been working closely with leading researchers at BIDMC and Harvard University to assist with gathering test data and to further refine the 3D-printed swab designs, materials, and printing capacity. The swab design was one of four prototypes — selected from more than 100 reviewed designs — that showed excellent concordance with the controls in the IRB-approved clinical trial.
Support for Printing Businesses
No industry has been immune to COVID-19's economic impact, and many manufacturers and suppliers within the printing industry are offering resources and stimulus packages to help their customers in this challenging time.
Mimaki launched its Wide Format Investment Program with North Star Leasing Co. to offer financing options that help customers protect their cash so that their business, and not bills, remain their top priority. Options through the program include six months of payment relief, and a 3.99% fixed rate for 60 months. Similarly, Xitron introduced a stimulus package for printing businesses impacted by shutdowns, currently slated to be offered through the end of June. Customers can purchase its RIP and workflow software with little cash outlay and interest-free payments available from 90 days to 12 months, depending on the package.
Several companies are providing free services and resources to help businesses streamline workflows and processes. With many print business employees teleworking, reproduction facilities can receive a free RemoteDirector subscription to allow printers and converters to create and share proofs with customers and remote colleagues. NiceLabel is offering complimentary subscriptions to its cloud-based label solutions and technical consulting services to qualifying businesses that are joining in the efforts to fight the pandemic.
Color-Logic, which develops color communication systems and software tools for special effects printing, is pushing back renewal fees for printers licensing its SMART program, which provides software updates, technical support, and access to 100 press-ready marketing metallic files. The company is also providing free metallic files to anyone printing cards of thanks or positive thoughts, or COVID-19 safety posters. Similarly sharing free resources is decorated apparel and promotional product supplier ColDesi, which has designed a collection of free downloadable art to inspire and unite the industry.
Heat printing technology manufacturer Stahls’ is sharing a free ebook, “Apparel Decorating Business Survival Guide,” written by Josh Ellsworth, senior VP of dealer and enterprise sales, with tips and strategies on how apparel businesses can weather the pandemic and best position themselves for when life transitions to a sense of normalcy.
The offering of resources has even extended beyond PSPs. In addition to All Covered assisting in facilitating connectivity for Konica Minolta’s customers that have transitioned to remote work, Konica has been hosting trainings on G-Suite and Office 365 for educators, many of whom are slated to teach remotely at least until the end of their respective academic years.
Meanwhile, heat transfer manufacturer FM Expressions donated equipment to a special fundraiser for No Kid Hungry. To combat child hunger in the U.S., dubstep producer Zomboy created an exclusive apparel line, raffling off items in exchange for donations. As of April 24, more than $5,400 had been raised for the charity.
In addition to providing resources, OEMs are also finding new avenues to educate PSPs as a result of trade shows and other industry events being canceled or postponed for safety concerns. EFI launched its first-ever EFI Ignite Virtual Experience, with three days of informative sessions, Q&A opportunities, demonstrations, and more, hosted from its different customer experience centers across the globe.
Onyx Graphics, which provides end-to-end solutions for print production workflow, has hosted a series of free educational webinars led by Onyx experts worldwide to equip customers with tips and solutions for specific business needs. They have also focused on color management and how customers can maximize their Onyx investments.
Roland DGA, which has been working with its customers in COVID-19 efforts, including using its laser engraver to create face shields, introduced a Facebook Live “Talk Shop” series. In three daily 10-minute sessions, Roland experts and customers discussed the state of the industry, what PSPs need to know about producing health and safety graphics, and other application opportunities in the current climate.
There is no question COVID-19 has changed the world, and that its impacts will continue to be felt in the future. But as the printing industry comes together in a time when it feels people are being kept apart, it represents just one example of how companies and individuals across the globe are finding innovative ways to help and support those who need it most.
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