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3M: Leveraging M4.0 to Scale Crisis Capacity

3M is harnessing M4.0 technologies to help meet its target of two billion N95 respirators a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no company untouched. For 3M, already a global life sciences company and supplier of personal protective equipment and medical devices for healthcare and critical infrastructure providers when the crisis began, the call to respond has been urgent and personal.

Since January, 3M has doubled production of its N95 respirators to 1.1 billion per year at its global manufacturing facilities, including in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. The company now aims to double its capacity again to 2 billion per year within the next 12 months.

With any significant respiratory health event, none more formidable than COVID-19, there is a strong and rapid increase in demand and resulting production constraints, which in turn drives the urgent need to rapidly innovate and inject productivity. In this case, 3M leveraged all aspects of constraint management by scaling its workforce to leverage all existing capacity, investing in additional capital expansion, and, importantly, leveraging I4.0 and M4.0 technologies to create a huge and immediate shift in productivity.

One example of the many challenges 3M was able to address using digital technologies was onboarding and training dozens of new employees to operate critical assets. To aid in training new employees, it leveraged new digital training platforms that helped its factories create and deploy digital work instructions, empowering teams to quickly scale standard work execution. It also deployed augmented reality tools that enabled the factory teams to bring experts to the floor while practicing the remote work and social distancing standards that were critical to helping keep its global employees safe as they respond to the crisis.

In addition, 3M is leveraging many technologies to improve productivity and expand capacity. This involves automating more and more of its production tasks or leveraging advanced on-line inspection systems to quickly determine defect root cause and react accordingly. 3M also automated the assembly of some of its PPE and medical devices, and inspection technologies are enabling additional and dramatic productivity gains. To date, 3M has more than doubled its output of critical PPE and have a path to doubling yet again. 

3M has automated the assembly of some of its PPE and medical devices, and inspection technologies are enabling additional and dramatic productivity gains.

In addition to advancements on the factory floor, 3M is also leveraging its supply chain digital twin technologies to enhance the illumination of the extended supplier network, refine global inventory strategies, enhance both inbound and outbound logistics visibility, and complete global scenario planning to optimize responses. The company has been working to scale its digital supply chain twin for years, and it’s still in progress, but there is early evidence that this new supply chain technology will give 3M dramatically improved visibility across the end-to-end supply chain and support step changes in supply chain agility and resiliency. It also provides improved capabilities to proactively interact with customers; keeping channel partners up to date on supply availability and helping them respond to their customers.

As 3M moves forward, it’s beginning to explore other advance manufacturing and digital twin technologies. Additive manufacturing, for example, can potentially lead to new innovative products and major step changes in productivity. The company is actively exploring this now with several partners to quickly scale and leverage. It’s also rapidly expanding its investigation of predictive model technologies to understand the opportunities for additional productivity advancements that will allow it to keep pace with market needs.

However, there are also some challenges as it moves forward at an accelerated pace, such as cyber security protocols, upskilling the workforce for the digital age and continuing to cultivate a growth mindset culture that learns and adopts quickly to changing tools and environments.

The full impact of COVID-19 on 3M’s factories and supply chains is still unknown, but the company is already experiencing the real-life advantages of I4.0, and is just beginning to fully understand the potential. 3M is now refining its strategy and building a long-term plan aligned with accelerating our leverage of M4.0 and I4.0 tools and capabilities to manage through the post COVID global economic and financial ramifications that will be felt through its factories and global supply chains.   M

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