Houston — Berry Global has added capacity for polypropylene resin melted into fibers for specialized medical face masks in the US and Europe to help meet ever-increasing demand amid global coronavirus pandemic responses.
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The Indiana-based plastic packaging manufacturer said late Thursday it has added meltblown capacity at its Waynesboro, Virginia, facility, converting a pilot line into one that provides full commercial output.
"The line will make meltblown materials which will ultimately be used in surgical-grade face masks along with N95 and N99 respirators," the company said. "This added capacity will support the manufacturing of approximately 200 million face masks annually."
The company also has fortified production of general population face masks in Europe with a multilayer nonwoven composite in a single sheet to help meet demand there for surgical masks.
GLOBAL DEMAND FOR NONWOMEN MEDICAL FACE MASKS UP GLOBALLY
Demand for medical masks has surged across the globe, particularly those made with nonwoven polypropylene fibers that block infectious droplets better than cloth or other woven fibers. Those N95 and N99 masks are in high demand for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals treating and testing coronavirus patients.
Such production requires specialized machines that melt resin into very thin fibers that are combined into nonwoven material.
China accounts for about half of global mask production, and a leading Chinese PP producer said a single metric ton of PP can produce 900,000-1 million disposable surgical masks, or 200,000-250,000 N95 masks.
On Friday, Dow Chemical also announced it has developed a simplified face shield design that it is sharing through an open-source file to help accelerate production. The company also is collaborating to make 100,000 face shields to donate to the state of Michigan, where Dow is headquartered, to distribute to hospitals.
Berry Global's announcement this week is its latest update on efforts to combat the pandemic.
In January, when China imposed widespread shutdowns to combat the pandemic's spread, Berry Global CEO Thomas Salmon said during the company's quarterly earnings call that its 15 facilities in affected areas of China and Thailand prioritized nonwoven material production.
"We're providing products on the nonwoven side to support what is a growing crisis around the world, with protective solutions specific to face masks, gowns and in the United States, the protection of disinfectant wipes for surgical suites and other regions," Salmon said at that time.
Dow's first quarter of 2020 earnings call is slated for April 30, and Berry Global's for May 1.