In community, insight

3M in Full Motion

We can be too…in other ways


I watched an interview with Chairman & CEO of 3M, Mike Roman, held on CNBC1 recently and followed up by reviewing articles by Bloomberg Business and Wired. The journalistic facts of the following blog are theirs. The commentary is mine.

I learned through this coverage how 3M has pulled out all the stops to deliver N95 masks in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis pandemic. These masks, also called respirators, provide more protection against the virus than ordinary surgical masks. They are named N95 because when worn properly they filter out 95% of particles smaller than .3 microns (about 1/100th the thickness of a human hair) that enter a wearer’s mouth and nose while still allowing proper respiration. The virus is smaller than this, about 0.125 microns, but it often travels within larger particles when an infected person coughs or sneezes so it is stopped by the fibers in the mask.2

The masks themselves consist of two layers of cloth with a piece of melt-blown polypropylene in between. The polypropylene is extruded at extremely small diameters, then settles and cools in a random pattern. The fibers are electrically charged, attracting particles while allowing air to pass through…It’s an extremely specialized manufacturing process in place at 3M.3

3M began their surge initiative in January. Since then, Mr. Roman said, they have rapidly increased supply of N95 masks in the US, to around 35 million a month, and are on track to double that by year’s end.4

They’ve done this with teams working 24/7, by making capital investments to build new lines and deploying team members from various parts of the company to assist in putting the assembly lines in place and managing production. The people of 3M are putting it on the line. They are working through their fatigue, achieving production levels that would be impossible without their expertise and pulling together to beat the clock.

Most of this effort goes directly to those on the frontlines—right here in the United States. Some product, however, is being sent overseas; and because of this, there is critique that says 3M should not send any of these goods overseas.

How does the team at 3M see this? While they feel that the situation of their fellow Americans is top priority, Roman says they also see “significant humanitarian implications” if they don’t send product to other needy areas around the world.5 They believe they have important relationships that must be upheld.

Because 3M is a global firm, its supply chain is interconnected around the world. Critical materials come from elsewhere to complete products here in the United States. Without the support of this supply chain, the end product would not exist.

3M’s customers and suppliers overseas count on the leadership of 3M to fulfill their commitments. 3M seeks to do this, not at the peril of American citizens, but with redoubled effort that is equipping the company to meet its commitments to both communities.

Most of us do not operate at this scale. Our efforts are local, but nonetheless critical.

When we…

  • stay at home
  • encourage friends and family over Zoom or Google Hangout
  • wear masks when we go grocery shopping
  • buy from local businesses on-line and have these goods delivered to our door
  • wash our hands diligently
  • connect with those who have lost their jobs to make certain they have their basic needs met
  • create cloth masks for those who have no masks at all

…we generate a ripple effect for good—because we slow the spread of this virus, and in doing so, keep many from ever being infected.

So for us in business and in our communities, let’s redouble our efforts just as the team at 3M has done—to care for those in our sphere of influence (even if more and more by virtual means), to honor our relationships, and to leave no one behind.

Note: As of the publishing of this blog 3M worked out an agreement with the White House to import 166.5 million respirator masks to the U.S. over the next three months. The additional masks will supplement the 35 million masks 3M produces domestically each month.6


Reference Notes

1- 3M Chairman and CEO, Mike Roman gives further background on what 3M is doing:

2 – Bloomberg Business article with excellent story from 3M’s respirator mask factory in Aberdeen, South Dakota.

3 & 4 – Wired article with perspective about the supply chain.

5 – PBS article about reaching out to other affected areas.

6 – Agreement reached with the Administration.



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