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St. Petersburg’s biggest company makes key pandemic products

Margie Manning

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Jabil has ramped up production of N95 masks and other face coverings.

Jabil is on track to make more than two billion face masks a year, in a new initiative announced Tuesday.

It’s the latest in a series of steps taken by Jabil NYSE: JBL), a global manufacturing firm and the largest company headquartered in St. Petersburg, to meet the demand for personal protective equipment and other supplies needed in the fight against COVID-19.

Jabil employees also are working around the clock to produce components for tests that can determine if someone has or has had the virus, and the company is developing face masks that can be safely reworn by healthcare providers who worry about running out of personal protective equipment.

“In our healthcare sector, we joined the fight against COVID as it was simply the right thing to do,” Mark Mondello, Jabil CEO, said during the company’s June 19 earnings call. He said Jabil teams transformed manufacturing lines worldwide to make critical products such as ventilators, specialized manifolds, 3D printed components, face shields, protective masks and test kits.

Mondello described the company’s healthcare manufacturing operations as one of the company’s strengths in a challenging quarter, when the company posted a loss of $51 million on $6.3 billion in revenue and announced it would lay off workers.

During the three months and nine months ended May 31, Jabil incurred about $67.4 million and $120.4 million, respectively, of direct costs associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, the company said in a quarterly report filed June 30 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

But the pandemic also opened business opportunities. In a news release Tuesday morning, Jabil said it would launch a substantial face mask manufacturing operation in the United States. By next week, Jabil’s factories in Memphis, Tennessee; Clinton, Massachusetts; and Gurnee, Illinois will begin producing what will scale to 1.6 million single-use face masks per day, with the ability to ramp up to more than 2 billion per year by this fall.

Jabil said it accelerated production to meet the demands of major U.S. employers — including service providers, retail and restaurant chains, airlines, government entities and other essential businesses — to help protect employees as the country re-opens.  The face mask offerings will include industrial face masks and FDA-rated surgical masks, the news release said.

In an earlier blog post, Jabil described some of the other work it was doing on face coverings.

Reusable masks

N95 respirators — the face covering devices used by frontline providers in a healthcare setting — should not be re-used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But with supplies of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment stretched thin, Jabil worked with a customer to design an N95 mask that could be sterilized and reused.

A Jabil manufacturing team in Minnesota worked on the concept with a Jabil team in Taichung, in Taiwan. Within 24 hours the teams had produced a 3D-printed prototype. Modifications continued over the next few days, with a functional mask developed after a few iterations.

“Our team sent prototypes to health professionals in Massachusetts, and the response was positive,” according to the June 16 blog by Charlies Main, Jabil senior vice president, and Luke Rodgers, senior research and development director, additive manufacturing. “Jabil will soon be able to make 30,000 to 50,000 reusable N95 masks per day.”

Another customer asked Jabil to produce a large number of face shields for hospitals. Jabil is on track to make more than 5,000 face shields a week.

Jabil separately used its manufacturing capabilities to produce masks for its own workers, one of several steps the company is taking to keep its employees healthy.

“The global incident rate of confirmed COVID cases across Jabil remained remarkably low,” Mondello said in the June 19 call.

Testing

While there are more test sites now than when the pandemic began, there remains a continued shortage of test supplies. As recently as Monday, a test site at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg reached capacity just over an hour after opening and had to shut down for the day.

Jabil said it has been working with its diagnostic healthcare customers to develop accurate test kits. Jabil rarely releases the names of customers, but David Panneton, vice president of diagnostics for Jabil Healthcare, described some of the work in progress in a June 25 blog.

One key issue for Jabil customers is making the COVID-19 test kits widely available as soon as possible, Panneton said. That’s a challenge in healthcare, an industry that traditionally is slow-moving and risk-averse, he said.

In one example he cited, Jabil geared up its workforce to produce products on an around-the-clock basis for a customer that is making tests that provide results within hours. Jabil’s global production lines are manufacturing the core consumables for testing on the product platform, while Jabil experts offer advice on validation and quality. 

Other customers are making antibody tests, showing if someone has previously contracted COVID-19 and potentially developed an immunity. Jabil manufactures the single-use reaction vessels and pipettes used in the antibody tests, and has scaled production to tens of millions of units each month.

Two European customers that are working on a rapid antibody test identified Jabil Healthcare in a news release earlier this month.  Those customers – ams, an Austrian firm that supplies high performance sensor solutions, and Senova, a manufacturer of in vitro diagnostic medical devices based in Germany — combined their technology to develop an accurate and disposable test that can be used in doctor’s offices and other point-of-care locations at a low cost.

Jabil is supporting the worldwide demand for the platform and will ramp up production to make the test kits available for professional use by September 2020.

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