by Carl Feinberg, CEO, CRITICA PPE
Report after report tells us that there are and continue to be severe shortages of PPE supplies nationwide. Even now, many sectors remain unable to fulfill their needs for critically needed PPE supplies.
Related Article: COVID-19 The Path Forward – Moving from Global Crisis to Domestic Opportunity
To arrive at any solution to this PPE shortage, we need to clearly understand the roots of the problem. We need to know the direct causes and systemic weaknesses that allow these shortages to persist. Then, and only then, can we begin to build towards a permanent solution.
In one respect, it was not necessarily the COVID-19 pandemic that triggered the PPE supply crisis. The real triggers were the organizational reactions to the pandemic which impaired and, in some cases, completely disabled the crucial PPE supply chains we relied upon at such a critical time.
How could this have occurred?
Public policy decisions were made. Containment measures were put in place. Governmental responses were enacted. These were all contributing factors. But evidence suggests the following systemic, global forces had significantly greater and longer-lasting impacts and were the primary impetuses causing the PPE shortages.
- Manufacturing moved to cheaper foreign locations
- A historical breakdown in domestic, US manufacturing capacity occurred
- The US became overly reliant and dependent upon globalized supply chains for essential supplies
- Global supply chains became disrupted, initially by trade disputes
- COVID-19 policy decisions impacted manufacturing across the globe
- Governments implemented containment measures along with travel and shipping restrictions
The combined impact of these seemingly disparate factors was, and are the disruptive forces impairing domestic PPE supplies. Shortages will persist as long as they remain unresolved.
Jennifer Ehrlich is a spokesperson for 3M, the leading US manufacturer of N95 masks with plants in the US, the UK and Asia. Ms. Erlich highlighted this point in a September 2020 article in the Washington Post. She noted that even though 3M has ramped up production here and abroad, demand today exceeds what 3M, and the entire industry can supply for the foreseeable future, given current supply chain dynamics.
As we have noted before, global systemic forces substantially decreased supply at the same time that demand skyrocketed. Pandemic-induced shipping restrictions further exacerbated the situation. The balanced, global supply-demand mechanism the US relied upon for years suddenly failed, putting the health, safety and security of an entire nation at risk.
To this day, this entire system remains out of balance. This is very evident with respect to shortages of N95 facemasks. In the absence of creative, innovative approaches, it will take years, perhaps an entire generation, to recover with losses rippling through the economy for years to come.
And due to decades of increasing reliance upon low-cost manufacturing available in Asia in general and China in particular, we have allowed our domestic manufacturing base to wither and die. As a result, many of the products we now need, as well as the materials we need to produce them are either primarily or exclusively produced offshore.
It is apparent that if the US wants to achieve strategic autonomy concerning PPE, we need to change the way we do business. This will require innovation and adopting entirely new ways of thinking about our domestic PPE supply chains and domestic manufacturing capacity.
A crisis like the pandemic we are experiencing affords paths to opportunity. But we need to adopt a mindset in which the dynamics of this crisis catalyze the positive business disruptions from which new business models emerge.
Innovation Has Business Value
Clearly, innovation has business value. We can take the knowledge gained and lessons learned to innovate ourselves out of this situation through creative approaches that create a permanent and sustainable solution to our PPE shortages.