The coronavirus pandemic is getting more severe with each passing day, and there is no sign of relief as more people become infected, especially in Europe and the US where the COVID-19 outbreak has been devastating. Due to the pandemic, a large-scale shortage of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), such as body coveralls and face shields, is being experienced across the globe. Additionally, because the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is something no one could have expected, no one in particular – person, country or agency – can be blamed for the PPE shortfall.
The world needs PPE desperately, and larger apparel companies are realising they can focus their efforts into two categories – both apparel and PPE. For smaller companies, however, a unique problem remains, as many smaller manufacturers lack specialised medical textile technology, and it is only now they are learning that a lot of science goes into these particular textiles. This is exactly where technology providers are playing a crucial role and supporting not just small manufacturers but big groups as well, with technical expertise to combat production woes of PPE in this tough time and safeguard frontline warriors.
One such effort is the formation of the Gerber PPE Task Force by the global technology provider Gerber Technology, in order to support its customers in increasing their production or transitioning to manufacturing of PPE to make the equipment more widely available. The aim of the PPE Task Force is to collaborate with industry-leading companies, share best practices, offer technical support, and provide resources to help optimise the workflow and make production as efficient as possible.
How Gerber can help
In order to act faster and band together with the industry as a whole, Gerber is providing production-ready patterns, cut files, markers, tech packs and the material resources required to produce PPE to those manufacturers who join Gerber’s PPE Task Force. For different types of fabric, different cutting parameters are required, and when it comes to PPE such as face masks and isolation suits, the necessary precision required is even more significant due to the mandated guidelines set by the medical industry.
For example, differences in setup stem from the use of different fabrics, which in turn, are driven by the different PPE applications, from basic protection to waterproof and even aerosol proof materials, as they would be required in areas highly contaminated with the COVID-19 virus.
“Through this Task Force, Gerber is not only assisting manufacturers with the setup of cutter parameters specific to the selected fabrics for which training, software, equipment and service technicians are provided to ramp up production, but also supporting them in selecting raw material, procurement, technical specifications, and finished goods delivery. In short, we are helping with anything that is needed to get PPE product to the frontlines,” commented Karsten Newbury, Chief Strategy & Digital Officer, Gerber Technology.
Because PPE manufacturing requires a significant shift from general apparel manufacturing, proper support is also being provided to the manufacturers in Gerber’s Task Force to change their current production lines to the production of PPE. One such garment manufacturer based in the USA is OnPoint Manufacturing, which made the decision to transform into PPE manufacturing in a matter of three days with the help of Gerber Technology. “Four weeks ago, late on a Thursday, we made the decision that we should shift 90 per cent of our capacity to making face masks. By that Sunday, we were in full production and have been ramping up each day. Unfortunately, this is a drop in the bucket, but we are pleased to have made the decision like so many others,” J. Kirby Best, Chairman, OnPoint Manufacturing, told Apparel Resources.
Furthermore, Gerber has created a Resource Site which includes several helpful resources like government regulations, patterns, cut files, tech packs and specifications about materials and where to find them in order to make PPE production as quick and efficient as possible, with new resources being added every day. “We have also created a “PPE Manufacturing Matchmaking Programme to help manufacturers and suppliers easily collaborate with one another,” stated Newbury. “This matchmaking programme allows companies, who can offer products or resources, to connect with companies looking for those products or resources they need. By signing up for this programme, their names appear on a list that is also provided on the Resource Site, so companies can ‘self-serve’ and connect with each other.” In addition to this matchmaking list, Gerber is also connecting into various platforms such as Bashi by Li & Fung, or Zilingo, offering their customers access to a world of buyers for their products.
While the technology provided by Gerber is flexible and can be used without needing to be modified, the software and machines’ setup and parameters need to be modified to efficiently produce PPE. “Our PPE Task Force has the experience and knowledge to help apparel manufacturers of all sizes to successfully transition their workflow. In an era of social distancing, we can provide the re-tooling services remotely and safely,” informed Newbury.
Big names join PPE Task Force
Since Gerber announced the formation of their Task Force, they have seen an overwhelming response not just from companies of varying business models, but from competing companies too. These companies – Coats, Elevate Textiles, Henderson Sewing, DAP America, Suuchi, Zilingo, OnPoint Manufacturing, AAFA, Fashion for the Frontlines, IFAI to name a few – have joined forces with Gerber to fight COVID-19 and the PPE shortage.
As a technology company that supports some of the biggest global fashion brands and manufacturers, Gerber has seen a significant impact on its daily operations due to COVID-19. Due to social distancing recommendations, Gerber had to rethink the way it supports and interacts with its customers. “We’ve turned many of our previously planned events into digital experiences, and we’ve heavily utilised our advanced remote support options to continue to quickly diagnose and solve any problems our customers might run into during this difficult time,” said Newbury.
The coronavirus pandemic is not just a temporary challenge facing the fashion industry; it is a game-changer that, post-COVID, will require businesses to restructure according to how consumers behave. According to Karsten Newbury, many companies are going to look to digital tools and automation to more efficiently manage their supply chains while giving them confidence that products will be available. Gerber also expects manufacturers to spend more time focusing on producing essential products domestically as well as drafting contingency plans that allow manufacturers to more quickly retool their operations. Fashion companies of all sizes will need to digitise their workflow more quickly than ever before by adding 2D/3D CAD, PLM, and cut planning software as well as IoT-enabled hardware solutions such as digital printing and digital cutting.
“In addition, due to social distancing, many companies are relying heavily on remote support solutions to allow technicians to quickly diagnose and solve issues remotely without setting foot in the facility, which is a trend that will likely continue post-COVID-19,” concluded Newbury.