The global shortage of medical-grade face masks is no longer news. Driven by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, demand skyrocketed months ago and shows no signs of slowing. Frontline healthcare workers remain the most urgent population to equip with personal protective equipment (PPE) as they courageously and unavoidably put themselves at risk caring for others. Unfortunately, this new “mask market” drives fierce and unprecedented competition as governments, companies, and healthcare facilities work to supply both private citizens and professionals with the equipment they need to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.
“The supply of masks is a huge challenge as the United States and countries in Europe have placed orders for billions of masks to factories in China,” said Steven Chen, Executive Director of Global Logistics In Lenovo’s Services Supply Chain, who volunteered to coordinate recent donation efforts. “Thus, the supply of the most protective N95 mask is also the most constrained. Teams work around the clock to complete donations, achieved through dedicated fast responses and not just out-bidding with money.”
In a powerful example of coordination, our teams rallied together in mid-April to deliver 130,000 much-needed N95 masks to hospitals near Lenovo’s largest North America offices in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and Chicago, Illinois. The masks were split between University of North Carolina, Duke University, Wake County, and University of Chicago hospital systems to help frontline workers.
“Lenovo’s gracious assistance to the co-workers, patients, and all those served by UNC Health is truly outstanding,” said William L. Roper, Interim President of UNC Health System. “Thank you so much for your very rapid response to our request for help.”
As a global company, Lenovo’s volunteer team of logistics and supply chain professionals were uniquely capable of identifying, procuring, and shipping masks in this effort. The team surveyed suppliers from around the world to determine where supply might exist in the midst of global demand, focusing on procuring and donating N95 masks—so named because they block 95% of particulate matter and are most effective at stopping virus transmission.
In addition to N95 masks, the team sought out masks that met the stricter requirements of the FDA and NIOSH during the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to a field of 20 potential global suppliers being narrowed to just one supplier that could meet all requirements, increasing both competition and supply volatility. Once the supply was identified, Chen and the team worked with Lenovo leadership to quickly lock in a competitive bid, securing speedy approvals to expedite the process.
Locking in supply proved to be the easy part; the team faced more challenges as they worked to get the masks shipped from the supplier in China to the United States. The pandemic has limited the amount of air traffic and freight available for international shipments, decreasing air freight traffic in China by 83% when the team sought shipment. Having local expertise at both the source and destination proved to be the gamechanger, as team members in the United States monitored the shipment progress until 2:00 a.m. to ensure it was properly routed to a smaller airport in China where they had identified precious freight space.
“I’m very proud of Lenovo and my colleagues across the U.S. and China who put in extra hours to make this possible,” Chen said. “We adjusted standard processes and adapted in real time to logistical constraints, because there was simply no other way to do this. Navigating customs, shipping restrictions, and a supply dwarfed by demand required exemplary coordination and creativity.”
The Lenovo team’s coordinated effort is just one example of the collaboration and fast action behind many companies’ generous mask donations. While this donation focused on N95 masks in the United States, Lenovo has also donated standard surgical masks to enhance healthcare workers’ protection in countries including India, Italy, and Brazil as part of their effort to assist healthcare workers and hospitals in the battle against COVID-19.