Inside one of the largest US sneaker factories that is making masks for hospital workers from laces and other trademark footwear materials
- New Balance is using some of its sneaker manufacturing facilities to produce masks for healthcare workers.
- The masks utilize sneaker materials like laces that are commonly seen in the brand's footwear.
- Business Insider spoke with New Balance's executive vice president of operations Dave Wheeler about how the company was able to shift to producing masks in less than two weeks.
- Here's how the factories changed their processes to make masks by using materials available to the footwear company.
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Having manufacturing facilities in the US can have its perks.
For New Balance, being the only major athletic brands that manufactures footwear in the US meant that when the company made the sudden decision to shift from sneaker to mask production, the materials and facilities were already in place and able to be sourced from the company's domestic supply chain.
"We have really deep knowledge on that manufacturing process including materials and design [and] development right here in the Boston area," New Balance's executive vice president of operations Dave Wheeler told Business Insider.
To combat the global shortage of face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak, major companies like Nike and Gap Inc. have pivoted their manufacturing facilities to focus on creating personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. Most recently, New Balance joined the initiative with a lofty goal of producing up to 100,000 masks weekly from its Lawrence, Massachussetts and Norridgewock, Maine factories.
After consulting with local hospital networks and state agencies, executives at New Balance analyzed their materials to see what could be done with the resources they had. According to Wheeler, masks were the obvious first choice.
"We designed [the masks] to actually match the equipment that we have on the factory floor which was a great innovation," Wheeler said. In other words, the masks were created by repurposing the company's domestically sourced sneaker materials.
On March 23, within three days of hatching the idea to produce masks, New Balance had developed a prototype made from the equipment on hand. By early to mid-April, the goal is to be up and running at full production levels in both factories.
Here's a look inside New Balance's Lawrence, Massachussetts sneaker factory and the production process of the how the new masks went from prototype to full-scale production in under two weeks.
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The team focused on using the best materials to fit the needs of those who would be wearing the masks
The design was heavily influenced by New Balance's sneaker materials
The first phase of production involves cutting materials
Phase two focuses on heat bonding
Phase three involves using laces for straps
Overall, each mask requires less than a minute of assembly and labor time
Wheeler says the company is honored to get to help out
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