CSCR®’s Supply Chain Expertise Joins Penn State’s COVID-19 Response

Find out how CSCR® got involved with the MASC initiative at Penn State, and what milestones have been achieved thus far.

Not many could have predicted a pandemic to hit the United States back in February. 

Students and faculty at a college campus like Penn State were still shuffling between classes, graduation gowns were hanging in dorm room closets, and academic events filled a busy Spring calendar.

By March, the outlook changed dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated within the US and lifestyle changes like online learning, social distancing, and stay-at-home quarantine became the new norm. 

While others were still grappling with all the changes, Smeal’s Center for Supply Chain Research® immediately shifted into action to combat these unprecedented times.

Susan Purdum, associate teaching professor in supply chain at Penn State, said her involvement with the pandemic’s challenges began with a call on March 23 from the Hershey Company’s Jason Reiman, SVP, Chief Supply Chain Officer and former member of CSCR®’s Board of Advisors.

 Jason had been in discussions with his counterpart at Penn State Health, Richard Bagley, SVP, Chief Supply Chain Officer.  The men were discussing ways that the two Hershey organizations could collaborate on pandemic surge needs for central and southeastern Pennsylvania.

At that point, Jason thought, “let’s get Smeal involved.”

Purdum quickly summoned the expertise of Steve Tracey, the Executive Director at CSCR®.  Steve’s extensive background in the medical consumables industry as well as access to the center’s resources would take initiatives to the next level.

“If you recall, in mid-March, there was grave concern about our US health care system’s ability to handle the pandemic surge,” Purdum said.  “As part of this planning, Penn State Health (PSH) developed a critical items list for their surge needs based on the forecasted ‘pandemic curve’ and color-coded these needs based on urgency. When we first started, almost everything on the list was color-coded red.”

Around the same time that Purdum and Tracey got involved, Tim Simpson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering within Penn State’s College of Engineering launched an initiative called MASC, Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19. 

This initiative was created to design and develop personal protective equipment and testing supplies for healthcare providers within the Pennsylvania region.  The collective efforts of Purdum and Tracey for supply chain expertise quickly folded into the MASC initiative.

“Supply chain is one of several vertical research streams underway within MASC,” Purdum explained.  “Through Tim’s “infectious leadership” (no pun intended), MASC has grown to 350 members and includes 3D printed masks design, disposable stethoscopes, ventilators, testing booths, and sterilization validation processes among other items.”

CSCR® specifically was tasked with finding leads on supply materials with some unique specifications. 

This task was made all the more difficult due to world-wide stock shortages as everyone within the industry and governments were chasing the same materials. To this end, if materials needed to be converted, almost all converters were deemed “non-essential” and closed.

Purdum found a silver lining when she was able to secure filtration media for Penn State’s design engineers who were producing masks.  She also found very specialized nonwoven textiles for Level III surgical gowns.

It was “good old-fashioned networking” that got Purdum leads onto the factory floor, thus bypassing sales, who often shut down her requests due to capacity-related issues.

“From my years of experience working in manufacturing, I knew there had to be ‘non-conforming’ material somewhere in inventory, on the factory floor, or in a warehouse,” Purdum said of her past experiences.  “This ‘non-conforming’ material may function just as well as conforming material except for the fact that an ‘out of spec’ parameter (damaged core or poorly wound roll) prevents its sale.  Sure enough, we got what we needed.”

Penn State News also covered Purdum’s sourcing of the filtration media material and how it “met the specifications for filtering participles in the air.”

The article continued to report that “after careful testing by experts in the Materials Research Institute, the material was found to provide the necessary protection” for masks.

At this point in time, Penn State’s MASC has achieved success on many fronts: design prototypes of masks, 3D printing test swabs for patients, and delivery and design of powered air purifying respirators.

With the pandemic curve flattening in the Pennsylvania region that PSH serves, supply chain experts and the MASC team are re-directing research and development efforts to better position Penn State Health and its campuses for the future.

Purdum feels inspired by how many Penn Staters have come together to serve as the heroes without capes.

“It’s been an incredible experience to gain insights into the strategic planning of a hospital system and the complexity of the challenges they face from patient care to employee safety and protection. The clinical concerns of the medical providers who use this equipment cannot be overstated, not to mention regulatory and legal requirements the health system operates under,” she said.

More than ever, Purdum wants to thank her father Dr. Joseph P. Bering, who was affiliated with Penn State’s College of Medicine for many years prior to retirement when he served as its Clinical Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program. 

His devotion to the medical residents and profession motivates her.

Truly, the heroes out there are fighting every day, and CSCR® is truly inspired and honored to be a part of the commitments that MASC has put together in order to stimulate progress in a time where even one more mask makes all the difference.