South Alabama manufacturers switch gears to aid health care workers

Wendy Bedsole, executive director of the Medical Society of Mobile County, sent out a call to action to local industry in the early stages of the pandemic.

“It was clear our local health care facilities and professionals were about to encounter an unprecedented medical event,” Bedsole said. “As the hospitals and health care centers were taking inventory and preparing their facilities, a primary need was face masks and shields. We reached out to our business community to ask for any excess equipment.

“The response was overwhelming,” she said.

  • Austal USA, which makes large vessels for the U.S. Navy, turned its 3D printers into manufacturing centers to produce hundreds of surgical mask tension relief straps and re-usable medical masks for local hospitals, including the University of South Alabama (USA) Health centers.
  • Airbus, which assembles A320 and A220 aircraft in Mobile, shifted its 3D printing efforts and partnered with USA, Coastal Community College, community volunteers and Flight Works Alabama to produce more than 500 re-usable face masks and hundreds of tension relief straps.
  • AM/NS Calvert, one of the most advanced steel finishing facilities in the world, provided 500 face shields and 3D printed tension relief straps for local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

“Through the efforts of companies like Austal, Airbus, AM/NS Calvert, the Mobile Area Chamber, and more, we were able to address the needs of not only our local hospitals, but hundreds of other local health care providers desperately in need of supplies,” Bedsole said.

AVERTING SHORTAGES

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce pulled the area’s largest manufacturing employers together, along with USA, on a weekly conference call to share best practices – a move that established the industry consortium.

USA’s Assistant Vice President for Research Mathew Reichert was the technical mastermind behind the effort to use 3-D printers to create personal protective equipment aimed at helping avoid a shortage of medical equipment as the state prepared for the wave of cases.

David Rogers, vice president of economic development at the Mobile Area Chamber, said the business community’s response “has been terrific, from our largest manufacturers down to small business.”

“As the economy continues to reopen,” he added, “we will continue to be in tune with what our health care workers tell us they need.”

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