Over the past month, Alabama industries large and small have been coming together to support health care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first story in a series highlighting these companies and their efforts.

Boeing in Huntsville and Mercedes-Benz in Tuscaloosa County are among the state’s biggest employers that are deploying resources to produce face masks and face shields for hospitals and first responders.

Beyond that, clothing designers, textile manufacturers, breweries and a host of other companies across Alabama have quickly pivoted their daily operations to turn out protective gear, medical equipment and hand sanitizer.

About 45 businesses in the state are looking at shifting production to personal protective equipment, or PPE, said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield.

Aerospace giant Boeing, across 10 locations nationwide, including Huntsville, is set to produce thousands of protective face shields per week to assist the fight against COVID-19. (Boeing)

For some, those shifts have required new capital investments, additional equipment and retraining of employees, he added.

“We’re proud to see so many companies stepping up in this time of great need, with Alabama workers answering the call to support their neighbors and communities,” he said.

Employees at the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Tuscaloosa County are making face masks and face shields for local hospitals.

They are using the plant’s 3D printers to produce face shields at a rate of 100 to 150 per day. They’re also making masks, which can be sterilized up to 25 times.

Other Alabama automakers have joined in the effort, producing equipment, donating supplies and providing design and manufacturing expertise.


Boeing face shields

Boeing on April 10 delivered an initial shipment of 2,300 reusable, 3D-printed face shields to the Department of Health and Human Services.

A Boeing employee works on face shields. About 45 companies in Alabama have shifted operations to make personal protective equipment for health care workers. (Boeing)

The companywide effort includes its Huntsville employees, who are using additive manufacturing machines to 3D-print a frame with an adjustable headband that allows a clear plastic face shield to be snapped onto it.

Boeing employees worked with health care providers across the U.S. to understand the most urgent needs and align those with the company’s manufacturing capabilities.

The shipment of face shields will be distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Boeing employees nationwide are set to produce thousands per week.

“Boeing is proud to stand alongside many other great American companies in the fight against COVID-19, and we are dedicated to supporting our local communities, especially our front-line health care professionals, during this unprecedented time,” said Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun.

Cullman County’s HomTex plant has shifted from producing luxury linens to filtered face masks, with a total of several hundred-thousand already made. And Fort Payne sock maker Renfro Corp. is ramping up to produce masks as well.

Other efforts include breweries in several communities that are making hand sanitizer and a partnership between Birmingham wedding dress designer Heidi Elnora and Moulton’s Red Land Cotton that has so far produced and distributed more than 15,000 face masks.


This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.