Minnesota Knitting Mills makes slight pivot into PPE

Posted April 23, 2020


By Devin Steele (DSteele@eTextileCommunications.com)


During the pandemic, Minnesota Knitting Mills (MKM), based in Mendota Heights, Minn., has had to make only a slight pivot into PPE and other medical goods to address the demand for these products for the healthcare industry.


The company already was supplying PPE products and other related medical products, including medical cuffs and several types of fabric, but in lower volumes than it is producing currently, according to Britt Moore, director of Sales & Customer Services. Some of its fabrics are being repurposed for new types of applications, he added.


“The biggest shift has been determining the different levels of PPE protection and how our fabrics can be used, along with assembly needs for the different products,” he said. “Determining the areas that we could participate in while also temporarily turning away from our other major product lines was the most challenging aspect, and one needed leadership to determine which areas of the business – both in personnel and operations – were flexible enough to move into the PPE area.”


As a critical manufacturer supplying healthcare supplies, MKM was granted an exception from the state’s State-At-Home Executive Order. The company isn’t fully staffed, but it is looking to bring back additional team members in response to the demand for the PPE products, Moore said.  


Minnesota Knitting has had numerous partners reach out to see what MKM can offer in comparison to what the partners can offer in order to develop additional PPE products, he noted. Many of MKM’s customers have also pivoted into the PPE arena, and the products they are making are being distributed in new channels that are not completely defined, Moore reported.


“For many of our products, we don’t know the final distribution plan,” he said.


Employees are “very willing” to help with the production of the PPE and other mainline products, but they are also concerned about the risk that COVID-19 carries with it, and the company is taking every measure to ensure their safety, according to Moore.


“While there is a certain amount of pride in providing the needed products in a time of crisis/need, there is also a high level of stress and tension that surrounds such efforts – stress surrounding the future outlook of the industry and company, tension around what might happen next, and most importantly the stress that surrounds how we can take care of our most important resource – our team of employees,” he said.


MKM is running two main shifts, and this is about 50 percent to 60 percent of its normal production, he added.


Some of the biggest pressure points, Moore said, are sewing machinery as well as consistent – and possibly long-term – demand on some of the newer products. And the uncertainty of demand for the next 60 to 120 days makes for difficult planning decisions, he added.


“Our goal is to weather the current situation while expanding our product lines to allow MKM to be more flexible long term,” Moore said. “The goal during the social-distancing phase is to remain viable with the less-than-full production plan and then expand to higher-than previous levels once the restrictions are lifted.”


One thing is certain, he pointed out – when this crisis if over, some of the issues Minnesota Knitting Mills has been at the forefront of addressing with industry partners will begin to crescendo to a larger audience.


“If the last four weeks has shown us anything, it is clear that the vision of the SEAMS organization is urgently needed in the textile industry in the U.S.,” he said. “Much of the conversation that we have had with customers and other partners are the same conversations that we have had within the SEAMS organization for the past few years. Coordination, collaboration and a ready-made supply chain need to be more fully developed so that the ramp-up time can be shortened the next time a need appears.”

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