Healthcare workers at the front lines of the COVID-19 response are using N95 respirators to help protect them from the disease. But N95 respirators are not the only respirators that can be used in this fight. 3M is also working to increase production of powered air-purifying respirators, or PAPRs. PAPRs are more complex than filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95s, but they can be very useful for long-term wear.
Scott Larson, global product application engineering manager for respirators in 3M’s Personal Safety Division, and James Fenton, global value stream manager for PAPRs, explain what a PAPR is and how it can help those on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19.
Can you describe what a PAPR is?
A PAPR is an air-purifying respirator that uses a blower to force ambient air through air-purifying elements into a hooded facepiece. The hood covers the wearer’s whole head, so it is both a respirator and helps protects the wearer’s face.
What are PAPRs typically used for?
PAPRs offer protection against certain respiratory hazards with integrated eye and face protection that can help provide a more comfortable environment for the worker. They are used all over the world, in many industries, for a variety of applications. It is all the way from transportation, to metal production, to healthcare and pharmaceuticals. You name an industry and we probably have a PAPR somewhere in the world being used in that industry.
Why are PAPRs so important right now?
Healthcare workers are using many types of respirators while treating COVID-19 patients. As you’ve probably seen, they are using N95 respirators and typically a face shield to help protect their eyes and face from aerosols. Our PAPRs can provide respiratory protection as well as cover the wearer’s face and eyes.
Some people find PAPRs more comfortable because they aren’t tight fitting on the face. Instead, it’s a loose fitting hood with air blowing into it. Also, you don’t have to fit test a hood, so that is a real benefit in healthcare right now. The other thing is, if a doctor or a nurse has facial hair, they can wear the PAPR hood where they couldn’t wear a disposable or a reusable respirator.
What is 3M doing to maximize the output of PAPRs?
We have a cross-functional team working both inside and outside of 3M. We are working with many of our suppliers to increase their capacity to be able to feed our operations. We have invested in installing more equipment to expand our footprint in the locations where we manufacture PAPRs, as well as adding PAPR operations to other existing plants.
Where do we manufacture PAPRs and PAPR components?
We manufacture PAPRs primarily in Nebraska and Poland, but we manufacture supplies for PAPRs in plants all around the United States. We have also entered into a partnership with Cummins, who will begin manufacturing filters for 3M PAPRs in their U.S. plants.
We have also been working with Ford, who has begun producing an all-new PAPR design developed in collaboration with 3M. This PAPR was rapidly designed and prototyped in accordance with federal guidelines and with 3M expert support and guidance in less than four weeks. Pending approval, 3M will distribute the newly designed PAPRs through its U.S. distribution network to help bring these technologies quickly and efficiently to healthcare workers who urgently need them.
Is there anything else you think people should know about PAPRs?
A PAPR is another respiratory protection option for helping to protect against COVID-19, but many of the respirators that 3M produces are good options. When they are selected and worn correctly, they are effective at helping protect people from airborne hazards. A PAPR doesn’t necessarily give you more protection than the other options, but there can be benefits to wearing one depending on the situation, the person and their needs.