As transport, shipping restrictions and national lockdowns were enforced globally one after the other in March, many manufacturing lines ground to a halt. Outdoor gear suppliers were hit with the double whammy of economic and logistical adversity, added to the fact that their products are not likely to be high on buyers' minds when access to outdoor activities is for the most part prohibited or discouraged and funds are limited. In response to the crisis, some gear manufacturers are lending a figurative hand to health and frontline workers around the world, turning their hand from climbing hardwear to ventilator parts, from shoes to masks and outdoor apparel to medical gowns.
The World Health Organisation recently called on governments to increase production of medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by 40% to meet a surge in global demand. Across the world companies large and small have offered their help. Here are just a few who have been shifting their focus to medical supplies.
At DMM HQ in Llanberis, North Wales, the company remains fully operational as a business and has added the fabrication of ventilator components and PPE masks to its production lines. "We are still manufacturing and shipping worldwide, but these are really extraordinary times, and we are operating very differently to how we were only a month ago," Managing Director David Noddings told UKC.
"As you can imagine, the global demand for climbing equipment has slowed significantly and so our production focus is centred on the continued supply of working at height equipment used by emergency services and by teams globally for the maintenance and repair of essential utilities and infrastructure, such as the production and distribution of energy and telecommunications."
Alongside this, DMM are opening up their capacity, machinery and skills to any project that helps with the national and international efforts in dealing with COVID-19. "We've been offering our manufacturing capabilities and capacity via the more formal online government portal and also via our network of friends working in healthcare, engineering and procurement," David explained. "This week we are tooling-up to manufacture components for critical care ventilators in our CNC workshop."
"We are trying to support on a local level and also a bigger scale if we can make it all work," he explained. "Nothing firm yet, but there are possibilities for production of textile scrubs, aprons and gowns."
The company is also reacting to many local requests from frontline healthcare workers who are desperate for any form of protection they can get hold of. "Yesterday we managed to fabricate a protective face screen with headband consisting of acetate, modified climbing harness internals, webbing, airmesh and buckles using our laser cutters and sewing machines," David told UKC. "We delivered 6 yesterday, and are making another 50 today. There will be more to come."
Unsurprisingly, the wide-ranging impacts of the current COVID-19 situation are being felt in DMM's sales figures. "Climbing sales literally dropped off a cliff from one month to the next. Other market sectors have also slowed, but not to the same extent," David explained. As a result, DMM have reduced their working staff team by around 50% (200+ people down to <100). "We are using the government 'furloughed worker' scheme so that everyone continues to paid, but we still don't have access to the government cash yet," he added. "We have a strict social distancing policy at work with spaced workstations and are following all government guidance."
In the face of the crisis, David and the team at DMM are proud to be doing their bit to help, and emphasised the fact that safety equipment is very much in the brand's remit and heritage.
"We feel proud to be able to help. I think it's safe to say that many of us here are still somewhat shell shocked by how quickly our world has changed, and the challenges that this presents in communities everywhere. We've always set out to make our customers safer and better equipped to tackle what they need to tackle, whether that's an icefall, a sketchy trad pitch, a highball, or a taxing clip-up.
"At the moment, what people are tackling on the frontline goes beyond any of that, so playing our small part in helping to make those people safer and better equipped to deal with COVID-19 is the only right thing to do."
The Italian footwear company shut down all normal production as the country went into lockdown, but following a general request from the government the Italian factory has been repurposed to make PPE.
Plant machinery designed for cutting and stitching footwear materials such as leather and rubber has been converted for the prodution of masks and laboratory coats for use by the Protezione Civile (Civil defense) of Trento.
"We have been producing footwear in Trentino since 1928, always feeling a strong social responsibility towards an entire community that makes solidarity and mutual aid a fundamental characteristic" says Lorenzo Delladio CEO & President of La Sportiva.
"...We first contributed to the collective effort to contain the contagion, by closing our production sites in advance: now we are called on to commit ourselves to facing the second phase of the emergency"
"The first prototypes were made last Friday and this week, thanks to the technical fabrics supplied by the Trentino companies Vagotex and Texbond, production is underway for the creation of an initial 1000 pieces per day with the objective, once full production capacity has been reached, of manufacturing 3000 pieces per day"
"Currently in the factory in Ziano di Fiemme which normally employs 369 workers and which produces 2000 pairs of shoes per day, 8 people have been called in from the layoffs, including workers and R&D technicians to create the prototypes of the masks compliant with the standards requested by the Istituto Superiore della Sanità of Turin (Higher Health Institute of Turin). The production that is already underway now only awaits official certification to be definitively approved so that the company can proceed with distribution."
"To do this we have equipped ourselves with the adequate raw materials to be able to produce a first batch of 55,000 masks [...] At the same time, we are trying to independently certify other materials in order to produce laboratory coats and other protective components and then move on to an industrialized production that will allow, in the very short time, to reach much more important daily productions. Clearly by converting more machinery we will gradually be able to bring more employees back to the plant. In the hope that this will help to secure the hundreds of health workers who operate in the Trentino area and who today need all our support. United albeit divided, we will climb this mountain too, that's what I said to my collaborators at the beginning of the emergency and it is the message I want to give today to all those who are at the front lines to fight this battle. La Sportiva is there and supports you. "
The firm has also donated 50,000 euros to the intensive care units of Trento and Rovereto, and now hopes to obtain official certification for its PPE in short order.
"Equipped with sewing machines, patterns and material from our local quilt shop, our warranty and repair team has temporarily suspended its business-as-usual operations to focus on producing protective masks for our local community," say US pack brand Osprey.
The operation Stateside aims to sew 100 fabric masks per day, which are being donated to healthcare workers and front-line responders in and around Cortez, Colorado.
"In a continued effort to reduce waste, each mask is being sewn so that it can handle multiple washings. To preserve the health and safety of our employees and mask recipients, we are following social distancing protocols during production. We have also coordinated with the Governor's office and plan to continue making masks for as long as we can be of assistance in helping to protect our community.
"While our efforts are currently focused on the immediate needs in our backyard, we hope to expand our aid into more communities soon. Whether you're an individual or a brand, we hope our efforts inspire you to join us in supporting healthcare workers in your respective communities. Go ahead and dust off that sewing machine and those Home-Ec skills—we're all in this together."
The company's British arm are currently looking into mask production.
Cascade Designs, Inc. (CDI), parent company of Mountain Safety Research, Therm-a-Rest, Platypus, PackTowl and SealLine, has repurposed its Seattle factory to manufacture ASTM Level 1 medical masks. The facility will manufacture up to 20,000 medical masks daily to help keep healthcare workers safe during the COVID-19 crisis.
Production started on March 31, with a daily output of 1,000. Once in full production, CDI aim to make up to 20,000 masks per day.
While most brands have outsourced production to the Far East, and hence have limited capacity to manufacture PPE at short notice, CDI say they are in a unique position to respond quickly to the growing demand for PPE in the US, thanks to its American factory and experienced team of sewers. The facility will be manufacturing ASTM Level 1 medical masks, which provide basic bacterial filtration and sub-micron particulate protection for general medical use.
Doug Sanders, Vice President of Medical and Military at CDI, has been leading this effort.
"Cascade Designs has been manufacturing quality outdoor gear in its Seattle factory for more than 50 years," he says.
"Our team is experienced and fully committed to supporting the medical community - the doctors, nurses, health-care workers and first responders - that need personal protective equipment to safely and effectively care for their patients."
The masks are being made in partnership with Kaas Tailored, who are working with partners across the US to make 100 million face masks in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Kaas provides the materials and distributes the masks, while CDI employs its team of 44 highly skilled sewers to stitch each individual mask. The masks will be distributed to 51 American hospitals.
Ardmel Group - the workwear and professional sector of outdoor clothing manufacturer Keela - are working on a variety of products for the frontline effort. Keela Director Sam Fernando told UKC:
"We are currently making body bags and are working on research and development for gowns and coveralls, but that's a slightly longer process."
Keela are also supporting other UK manufacturers by open-sourcing specifications and manufacturing methods on gowns and other products.
"The industry has come together," Sam commented. "Typhoon and Endura are starting soon and companies like Troll and Terra Nova are also getting involved," he added.
How can other outdoor companies get involved?
In a recent Outdoor Industries Association newsletter, Sam is both appealing for help from and offering support to other companies in the outdoor industry, who might not be sure where to begin. He is looking for:
- Companies with manufacturing facilities with free capacity (even 3-4 industrial sewing machines and machinists would help)
- Companies that are already looking to convert manufacturing to crisis PPE but are struggling with complexity – fabric, specs, standards etc. Ardmel can assist with this.
- Waterproof fabrics – strong waterproof fabrics, 4oz PU or PVC coated.
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