Jabil Will Turn U.S. Factories Toward Making Protective Masks

Date: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Surge in coronavirus cases as states reopen fuels stronger demand for protective equipment

Manufacturing services company Jabil Inc. is jumping into the face-mask field in the U.S. with plans to produce more than a million masks daily, making it the latest industrial operator to turn its factory lines over to equipment aimed at the global coronavirus pandemic.

The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company, which has more than 50 factories around the world serving industries such as electronics and health care, is scaling up domestic production to meet the growing U.S. demand for personal protective equipment as coronavirus cases in some states surge while parts of the country reopen following lockdowns.

Jabil says its factories in Tennessee, Massachusetts and Illinois will be making 1.6 million single-use masks each day by this fall, with a capacity to produce more than 2 billion annually for customers in industries from airlines to supermarkets and health-care centers.

The company started making masks in China in March to protect its own workers as the coronavirus pandemic spread. As the virus spread around the world, “we started getting phone calls from suppliers and customers” asking about masks, Chief Executive Mark Mondello said. “Before we knew it, the requests for masks were much bigger than our own capacity.”

The move comes as companies including fashion brands and makers of shoes and mattresses are starting business lines for products aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus. Some are making cloth masks for everyday use or disposable single-use masks, the lightweight blue face coverings that loop over the ears, like those made by Jabil. 

Other companies are moving into the competitive market for N95 masks, which filter out 95% of very small particles and have been in scarce supply.

Businesses stung by supply-chain upheaval during the coronavirus pandemic are also weighing whether to bring some manufacturing closer to home, particularly for critical products such as medical supplies and semiconductors.

“We’re seeing an uptick in global [personal protective equipment] manufacturers looking at the U.S. for market opportunities there,” said Drew Coleman, director of U.S. and foreign direct investment for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Other businesses, including agricultural processors and global baking companies, are also reaching out about potentially moving some operations to Michigan, he said.

Jabil will use automation at its factories to keep its mask-making costs down, Mr. Mondello said. The U.S. effort didn’t displace other production because the operations are set up in empty factory space “that was there for anticipated growth.” Jabil’s decision to ramp up U.S. output, he said, was “the right thing to do as a U.S. stock-listed corporation.”

 

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