Identifying Non-Traditional Suppliers

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At the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, PPE was in short supply. We received a call from the Milwaukee MaskForce, a grassroots coalition of over 25 Milwaukee-based manufacturers, hospitals, healthcare organizations, and universities. Maskforce members were working to address the shortage of PPE during COVID-19. The group was rapidly designing and building reusable, medical-grade N95-style respirators for frontline medical workers.

Researching Potential Partners

MaskForce had designed and built a prototype of a reusable mask with a filter insert; the group was struggling to find a good source for the filter media. Traditional filter suppliers didn’t have the capacity to help. The client knew our group could research and validate potential suppliers that met required specifications and connect producers with buyers. They asked us to find companies capable of producing N95-spec filter material.

Three days after we received the MaskForce call, we identified dozens of companies. We conducted due diligence to ensure a fit. And we compiled a list of 80 companies to contact. Working with Maskforce, we vetted the list to ensure no duplication of effort and began contacting companies.

That same day, the team identified a potential partner. A company in Arizona had developed a new N95-spec material, was ramping up production, and wanted to donate their materials. Our team connected them to the MaskForce team.

Five days after we began our research and due diligence, we uncovered six more companies that were scaling up N-95 spec material production. They were able to accept new customers. Collectively, these six had capacity to produce millions of masks. Not one was a traditional mask filter company. However, each recognized the need and adapted their materials and production lines to manufacture this much-needed material.

Maskforce worked on three potential designs that met safety, comfort, and performance requirements. After the designs were approved, Maskforce used the filtration material from companies we identified and validated. In the spring of 2021, the MaskForce team began selling its mask on Amazon. 

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