Relentless approach helps warehouse, procurement acquire high-demand PPE

N95 masks are snug-fitting, cup-shaped face coverings that shield the nose and mouth, filtering air. They are used by workers in industrial settings as well as in the construction and health-care sectors. Although they are technically respirators, they are commonly called masks to avoid confusion with ventilators.

Despite a worldwide shortage of N95 masks and other equipment spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic, MPW has filled all internal PPE requests.

To this point, the ability of MPW’s warehouse and procurement teams to overcome that scarcity has been crucial to both the safety of personnel and the success of the business.

Citing a proactive approach to communicating with both PPE suppliers and MPW’s Procurement Department, Warehouse Manager Dustin Kieber said MPW started procuring large orders of PPE on February 11. Since this predates many largescale purchases from other businesses and government agencies, it has kept MPW ahead of the curve with regard to handling the unique challenges of a pandemic.

Dustin Kieber

“MPW aggressively pursued face coverings early on,” Kieber said. “I got the GMs involved and they all approved the purchases. I was just looking at items I would have an issue procuring, and I tried to think ahead. It was a group effort to stay proactive to keep up with demand.”

Mike Mautz, a Senior Buyer with MPW’s Procurement Department, said a tip from equipment vendor Action Supply Products helped MPW stay alert to the PPE market.

“In February, Bill Martini, who is our account manager with Action Supply, gave us a heads up about the limited supply of N95 masks,” Mautz said. “They’re manufactured in China, so all the shipments were being canceled. That information was a life saver for us. It got us in the gear of finding N95s anywhere we could. Our folks need this protection for their daily jobs.

“I’ve been a buyer for 20 years, nine of those with MPW. I’ve faced some procurement challenges, but never this type of situation. It’s a valuable lesson and it’s going to have a lasting impact.”

Mike Mautz

Mautz said Kieber – MPW’s 2016 Salaried Employee of the Year – and the Warehouse team are a tremendous asset to the company. “Without Dustin I think the company would really be struggling with equipment shortages right now,” said Mautz. “Not just masks, but latex gloves, Tyvek suits and probably a dozen other items. He really has earned that employee of the year award.”

Kieber said the Warehouse and Procurement teams enjoy a good working relationship with effective communication processes.

“We’re continuously looking at cost,” he said. “We help each other get POs and vendor information in time. All of Procurement has been helpful. You hate to assume what would have happened if we hadn’t been as proactive, but a lot of our supplies would be a lot tighter, that’s for sure.”

For Mautz, another challenge has been finding the foaming hand sanitizer or the dispensers in Porta Kleen equipment. He said most hand sanitizers will not work correctly in those types of dispensers, but a dedicated approach again helped him find a solution. In this case, it was another brand of hand sanitizer that Mautz found in a great enough quantity to last several months.

The fogger/mister has been another important find during the pandemic for Kieber and Mautz. These allow MPW teams to efficiently perform industrial decontamination services, which have been in high demand lately.

“We bought one to test it and eventually bought 63 more,” Kieber said. “With our supply of backpacks with hand-held sprayers, that gives us 171 disinfectant applicators. We’ve deployed them across the country. Over the last few weeks MPW’s demand has declined, which is a good sign that we’ve procured enough.”

Despite this decline and a slight decrease in demand for other equipment, Kieber said MPW’s emphasis on acquiring safety-related equipment is ongoing.

“We have a couple months’ worth of items,” he said. “Every day we’re emailing vendors because the market hasn’t replenished. N95 masks are out of stock everywhere until at least mid-July.”

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