PPE shortage

Merrow Manufacturing, TSG Finishing join the PPE action to support effort

Posted April 16, 2020

 

By John McCurry

 

A crisis often spurs innovation. That’s proving true in the textile industry as companies are rapidly developing new products to supply the dire needs of the medical sector as it seeks to save lives amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

New alliances are being formed and companies are entering the medical market with a sense of urgency.

 

Fall River, Mass.-based Merrow Manufacturing has temporarily flipped its production to be dedicated entirely to PPE production. Through a partnership with technical hunting apparel maker Forloh, Merrow is manufacturing both reusable and disposable medical isolation gowns. Production began four weeks ago and Merrow began shipping gowns to hospitals all over the U.S. three weeks ago.

 

The new operation is known as Merrow Medical. Merrow is seeking Level 2 or Level 3 FDA certification for the PPE products.

 

Co-owner Charlie Merrow said his company will be in the medical market for as long as it needs to be, and he figures the need for increased PPE production will be long term. His company’s production will be adjusted to balance orders for the company’s critical regular customers in the coming weeks.

 

Merrow supplies technical fabrics to the U.S. military and the medical gowns are being manufactured to the same stringent specifications. Forloh is a relatively new company based in Whitefish, Mont. Merrow said the two companies are combining their respective expertise to produce “extraordinary” medical products.

 

“We consider this an opportunity to do something in which we were uniquely positioned to be able to make a substantial impact,” he said. “There aren’t many companies in the U.S. that can do what we can do and we decided to go all in.”

 

Merrow plans to go far beyond gown production. The company has a team of 25 in product development with a goal of conceiving two to four products per week that will reach a final prototype. Those products will go to market within two weeks after being approved internally at the company.

 

Merrow is primarily supplying products directly to the healthcare industry and also through seven state contracts. More than 60 private healthcare providers are being supplied.

 

“I have never been as proud of any organization as I have been of Merrow and the Merrow-Forloh joint venture,” Merrow said. “We are building millions of gowns and other products. We have the supply chain and the manufacturing resources to significantly contribute to the PPE shortage today, and in the future, as part of a reliable and durable U.S. supply chain.”

 

Merrow said his company’s approach to product development and construction has been to adhere strictly to FDA guidelines, not just the temporary guidelines issued during the current pandemic.

 

“We believe healthcare providers, first responders and first receivers need to have the best equipment and nothing less,” he said. “This approach has guided the Merrow-Forloh partnership. That is an important part of our message: This can be done at scale and it can be done right. We can keep providers and the folks on the front lines safe and as comfortable as possible.”

 

TSG Finishing converting medical products

 

Meanwhile, Hickory, N.C.-based TSG Finishing takes other manufacturers’ fabrics and make them better, said the company’s CEO, Brian Rosenstein. The company has been an approved vendor for most of the current medical PPE suppliers for more than 30 years, including all of the disposable nonwoven fabrics. However, TSG is not currently running products because its customers are busy trying to fulfill their own supply chains.

 

“But it gives us a leg up because we have the background, the knowledge and the ability with what’s involved in making fabric with certain PPE requirements,” Rosenstein said.  “What we are doing right now is on the finish side. We are working with multiple fabric manufacturers, both woven and nonwoven, and we are being used as a clearinghouse. People are sending us their materials and asking us, ‘What do you think, can this be sold as a PPE fabric right out of the gate, or do you need to put your treatment on it, and get it to a Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 PPE product?’ ”

 

TSG has become involved in the PPE effort in another way. It is now converting medical products. The company is purchasing fabrics and selling them to cut-and-sew facilities for the purpose of being made into gowns and masks.

 

“We now have a partner who has direct ties to the government and healthcare facilities,” Rosenstein said. “We are also now getting into the business of supplying hospitals directly with finished PPE products.”

 

Rosenstein is closely watching as textile and apparel firms are gradually changing their business models to add medical to their manufacturing arsenals. He said companies throughout the textile/apparel chain are determined to take steps to ensure that the current shortage of PPE never happens again.

 

“The key part of this is how reusable fabrics are brought back into the mix,” he said. “I’m hoping that the FDA and the CDC are going to come up with some specs for reusable at the higher levels. If that happens, the landscape of medical textiles is going to change dramatically. Because now you are talking about being able to wash something and reuse it rather than use it once and throw it out. That is going to rely very heavily on people like us, to be able to put the protective treatments on the fabric that are going to be durable enough for repeated washings and laundering.”

 

Because TSG does all of its chemical compounding in-house, it has been making its own antiseptic spray for use within its manufacturing facility to avoid scrambling to purchase products commercially. TSG has also donated the product to Catawba Valley Medical Center, a local hospital.

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PPE being sewn at Merrow Manufacturing