Kawasaki’s North American Manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, has put vehicle production on hold amid escalating COVID-19 concerns in the USA. Citing parts supply issues from domestic suppliers affected by American shelter-in-place rules, the company is also among a number worldwide, including Kawasaki’s Akashi plant, that have temporarily halted production.
However, during the week of March 23rd, Kawasaki was contacted by one of the largest hospitals in the Lincoln area and informed that they were running out of hand sanitizer for medical staff. While the hospital had gained Federal approval to make their own they had a shortage of 3 of the important chemicals needed.
Kawasaki’s paint department at the Lincoln, Nebraska factory was able to come up with two of the three key ingredients and donated two 55 gallon barrels of isopropyl alcohol and two 55 gallon barrels of hydrogen peroxide to the hospital (220 US gallons (833 litres) of chemicals in total), which the factory typically uses for cleaning and other painting related processes.
As the Lincoln factory was shutting down the end of that week, several employees in the logistics, service parts, and shipping departments were still hard at work on the necessary hazmat paperwork and organising a truck to deliver the chemicals and pumps to local medical facilities. With these chemicals hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer, cleaning solutions, and disinfecting wipes will be manufactured for a medical network consisting of over 50 hospitals.
Later, Kawasaki Lincoln was contacted by some engineering professionals within the Lincoln/Omaha community that were working with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln's Nebraska Innovation Studio – to 3D print face shields for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and the same 50 hospital network. The goal was to get a face shield to all hospital staff; an item that is in short supply.
Even though the Kawasaki plant was shut down for vehicle production, volunteers from the engineering group fired up the company’s large 3D printer and began printing face shields 24 hours a day with some of staff actually printing additional items on personal printers at home.
Through the efforts of the Nebraska Innovation Studio, Kawasaki, several other companies in and around Lincoln and Omaha and various volunteer engineers, hospitals are receiving hundreds of shields a day. In fact, despite news that the supply of clear plastic for the face shield would run out and cause shield production to stop, the Kawasaki Purchasing department sourced and donated a supply from a known vendor to make at least another 2,000 shields. Additionally, Kawasaki’s purchasing department at Lincoln is actively working to find material to make another 12,000 shields with the hope that very soon every hospital employee will get a face shield to help further protect them from COVID-19.
In another area of urgent health care need, Kawasaki R&D in Lincoln was contacted by the Nebraska State Patrol. Despite being equipped with new respirator masks to use for investigations, etc. to protect the troopers from possible exposure to COVID-19, the State Patrol still had a supply of hundreds of unused, old-style air filters destined to be discarded as they were not compatible with the new respirators but would work perfectly as a particulate filter to stop inhalation of the Corona virus. In an attempt to use up this old air filter inventory – and save thousands of masks that could be diverted for healthcare workers – they approached Kawasaki with an idea and a napkin sketch for an adapter to make them compatible.
Kawasaki R&D was able to design the adapter in a matter of hours and had a prototype 3D printed that same day. The adapter was designed to use an existing Jet Ski rubber gasket to seal the filter to the mask. Once the design was confirmed, a local Kawasaki parts supplier agreed to 3D print (and donate) the parts to get them deployed as quick as possible. 35 adapters using Jet Ski gaskets were deployed to state troopers across the state in two days. Another 65 adapters were subsequently fabricated to fill additional needs.
Kawasaki’s Lincon plant understands that these are difficult times and it is vital to help local health care providers, law enforcement and the wider community in any way possible. The plant has vowed to continue to support the fight against the pandemic in any way possible alongside many other local businesses and declare themseleves lucky to have such dedicated, thoughtful and talented staff to be able to contribute to what is a huge global effort.