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As the world continues the long fight against COVID-19, the PPE supply chain has become a critical component of public health and the safety of healthcare workers.

PPE, which includes gloves, masks, face shields, gowns, and hazmat suits, is essential in helping prevent the spread of germs between infected and non-infected individuals. While it doesn't guarantee safety and must be used in conjunction with other preventative measures, it's medical professionals' and the general public's best hope in staving off the novel coronavirus.

In March 2020, the WHO estimated that 89 million medical masks would be required internationally each month, along with 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million sets of goggles. The demand was so great and the industry so unprepared that these numbers seemed virtually impossible to meet.

During the PPE shortage that followed, healthcare workers were forced to seek alternative and less effective solutions to protect themselves, putting themselves at an even higher risk of contracting the virus.

Today, personal protective equipment manufacturers are doing their best to keep pace with the unprecedented global demand, while relying on suppliers like Coats – the top industrial thread manufacturer in the world.

Innovating the PPE Supply Chain

You might be surprised by how many everyday products you use that Coats helped create. Operating for over 260 years, Coats has offices in 52 countries across six continents. Its fibers and filaments are used to make everything from clothing to teabags, mattresses, and airbags.

When the pandemic started, Coats pivoted factory operations to help meet the new demand for PPE supplies and began to look for ways to optimize its assembly line. To help ramp up production, Coats' longstanding partners SAP and Microsoft provided digital solutions to streamline its international PPE supply chain.

With these solutions, Coats was able to migrate to the cloud and can now more easily maneuver resources across plants. The cloud migration gave them increased visibility, effectively turning 36 factories into a single system.

Coats is now able to help customers transition to PPE production faster and at a lower cost.

Kevin Givens, head of supply chain for Coats North America, describes, "By having all our information within one connected system around the globe, all our manufacturing facilities can really be treated as one manufacturing facility."

Additionally, SAP and Microsoft's solutions are helping the manufacturer to better manage and unify its PPE supply chain. As a result, communication within Coats' global workforce of 19,000 has improved and the company can now make expansive operational decisions in real-time.

Since modernizing its systems, Coats has been able to help customers transition to PPE production faster and at a lower cost, reducing the risk of future shortages. Coats has also begun sharing its standardized solutions with manufacturers of PPE.

When lives are at stake, time is of the essence and this type of collaboration has been invaluable for accelerating the PPE supply chain across companies and continents. As Coats Digital's managing director, Keith Fenner, puts it, "This is the health of nations. To be able to contribute to that, for us to be able to put technology in place that binds that together, is something that's really our duty, in my opinion."

"This is the health of nations. To be able to contribute to that... is something that's really our duty, in my opinion."

Keith Fenner

Like all businesses, Coats' daily operations were drastically impacted by the pandemic. But adjusting to these changes was about more than just protecting the bottom line. It was about utilizing the company's reach and resources to ensure that customers received the help they needed to meet market demands.

Coats' partnership with Microsoft and SAP enabled the company to examine and improve efficiency in the PPE supply chain, and ultimately get healthcare workers the gear they need to keep saving lives.

For more interesting news about the people and ideas that are changing our world, subscribe to Freethink.

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