Addressing the PPE Shortage through Technology Scouting

In the spring and summer of 2020, health care organizations and our government were trying to distribute a limited national stock of personal protective equipment (PPE), while ramping up production. Through an initiative that was funded as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, our group and RTI International’s Technology Advancement & Commercialization group partnered with the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), the Department of Defense, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to address the critical shortage of N95 respirators, masks, and gowns. Our goal was to create a database of the materials, manufacturability, and performance of raw materials used for manufacturing PPE in the United States.

We identified N95 and surgical masks made in the U.S. and provided technical data and specifications for each design. We interviewed manufacturers to obtain additional specifications. We characterized the supply chain and identified companies to enable the government to build its supply chain and construct masks in pandemics. Finally, we identified alternative materials that manufacturers could use to make masks. We contacted these materials providers for additional information and samples. This enabled AFFOA to test the breathability and filtration efficiency of each proposed material.

We applied our structured and repeatable technology scouting methods to identify alternative materials and ensure the validity of these materials.  Using this information, we created a database that will serve as a critical tool in managing future pandemics.  We built a potential supply chain and enabled the government to produce PPE as needed–and address the PPE shortage.

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