When 3M Aberdeen, South Dakota, got the call to ramp-up production of N95 respirators in January 2020 to help respond to the pandemic, the scale of the work ahead was massive.
But by adding hundreds of people and expanding the plant and production lines, Aberdeen helped bring monthly production of N95 respirators in the U.S. to 95 million per month.
Twenty months after the ramp-up began, the 3M Aberdeen plant has reached another major milestone.
Plant workers just produced their 1 billionth respirator since the beginning of the pandemic – a feat that would have otherwise taken about four years. They hit that milestone with help from 3Mers in sourcing, supply chain, value stream and engineering across the Personal Safety Division (PSD) and Enterprise Operations, as well as volunteers from across the rest of 3M.
“I’m just really, really proud of our team here and how they’ve been able to react and step up to the plate,” said Andy Rehder, plant director. “I’m grateful for the sacrifices people made working 24/7 to help get frontline workers the PPE they use while helping to care for others.”
Now that the plant has helped meet the need of health care workers responding to the pandemic, 3M is once again helping to support consumer and industrial needs, too.
“Our 3M Aberdeen plant employees did an amazing job over the last 20 months ramping up and producing essential N95 respirators for health care and other frontline workers,” said Mike Vale, group president of 3M’s Safety & Industrial Business. “And their tireless efforts mean that respirators are now increasingly available for consumer and industrial customers, too. 3M Aberdeen has been critical to our ongoing response to the pandemic and we will continue to give them our full support.”
Getting to 1 billion
The Aberdeen site started 24/7 respirator manufacturing operations in January 2020 – some lines are still operating on that schedule. Over that time, the plant added hundreds of workers from 27 states to help maximize output while also promoting work-life balance of plant employees, Andy said, with over 1,000 people working at 3M Aberdeen at the height of the ramp up.
“We used direct mailers, billboards, radio … we did everything we could because we knew we needed more people,” Andy said. “We threw the kitchen sink at it for sure.”
During the same period, the plant also went through an expansion, adding 120,000-square-feet to create today’s 560,000-square-foot facility. The expansion, which adds additional manufacturing lines and automated equipment to further increase the production of N95 respirators, was made possible by a partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense along with investments by 3M.
3M and N95s
3M is one of the largest manufacturers of N95 respirators in the U.S., which helped enable the company to support health care and frontline workers in the U.S. when the pandemic affected many other manufacturers. The 3M Aberdeen plant manufactures N95 respirators, and is one of multiple 3M plants around the world that makes the Aura™ flat-fold respirator. The Aura respirator is designed to fit a wide range of faces and is used across a wide variety of industries.
A N95 respirator is designed to seal tightly to the face, covering the mouth and nose, and when properly selected and used can filter at least 95% of airborne particles, including those that may contain viruses and bacteria. The entire surface of this type of respirator is a filter, which makes it very efficient at capturing airborne particles.
While the number of 3M Aberdeen plant worker numbers has dropped from the pandemic peak, Andy said the plant has come out of the experience stronger than it was before.
“At the end of the day, we had one of the strongest technical teams I’ve ever worked on,” he said. “We added new 3M technology, helped transition to a digital factory and learned a lot about the manufacturing equipment. It’s motivating to the team to know they’ve made a difference.”