ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. – The Department of Defense has three top priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper: Protecting the workforce, preventing the spread of the virus, and accomplishing the mission.
Rock Island Arsenal – Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center demonstrated all of these priorities to Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy during his visit to the center April 17.
“Clearly our nation is in need,” Col. Martin J. Hendrix III, commander, RIA-JMTC, said during McCarthy’s visit. “While our nation and our Army are no strangers to responding to natural disasters and internal concerns of our nation, COVID(-19) is a different animal. Most of us haven’t experienced a pandemic on this level and so the entire nation being in need at the same time really calls for an all-hands-on-deck approach. Being that we’re part of the Army Organic Industrial Base, we have the ability to turn on a dime when the Army needs us to do something.”
RIA-JMTC’s commitment to protecting the workforce is apparent in many ways, the commander stated.
First, by nature of the production lines and facilities within the Army’s Organic Industrial Base, much of the industrial artisan workforce is already working within the recommended social distancing guidelines, allowing them to continue their critical operations while taking the necessary steps to maintain a healthy working environment.
RIA-JMTC leadership has also taken precautions to protect the workforce by limiting physical contact, including staggered break times, limiting unnecessary movement and reducing in-person meetings as well as implementing maximum telework as determined by the nature of the job an employee performs and leave options for high-risk employees.
Additionally, 500 masks were ordered from a local vendor and distributed to personnel who most frequently cannot maintain social distancing, as well as 60 which were donated. Another 2,000 masks are ordered to build an inventory within the factory.
Initiatives to reduce the spread of germs, thereby protecting the workforce from COVID-19, have also been implemented. More than 500 gallons of hand sanitizer were purchased and distributed to the workforce and touch-free hand sanitizer stations were installed throughout the factory. Thorough daily cleaning is conducted around the factory and a deep cleaning is performed when anyone shows potential symptoms of having the disease.
Employees showing signs of sickness are told not to come to work and are sent home if they do.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, their work area is immediately cordoned off and evacuated and a deep cleaning is scheduled. No employees are allowed in the area until a deep cleaning is complete. The employee’s supervisor then begins tracing procedures by identifying those who came into contact with the infected employee, as well as potential hot spots and personnel exposed to hot spots.
JMTC is also supporting the fight against COVID-19 through manufacturing, especially with the Advanced and Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence.
“The Rock Island Arsenal has solutions to develop personal protective equipment as well as ventilator parts,” noted McCarthy. “With the dynamic nature of the U.S. Army, we are attacking the virus on all fronts.”
As the pandemic began, the Center of Excellence quickly began work on a project to reverse engineer and 3-D print ventilator housing boxes as requested by the Army’s Medical Logistics Command. The parts will be used to repair 55 ventilators.
“That’s one of the great things about having the advanced and additive manufacturing capability; we can very quickly prototype and produce parts that are needed and this is a great example,” said Hendrix. “Having an arsenal like JMTC with the Army’s Organic Industrial Base, we can very quickly change our priorities to meet the nation’s needs as directed by the Army. Having the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence makes us even more nimble in our ability to do that.”
Testing swabs could be 3-D printed next, pending an approved data package.
“We’re still working the realm of the possible, on what can be done, and the team has looked through good ideas,” said Hendrix. “From the very beginning of this we’ve had people pulling designs, all the way down to no-touch door handles that we’re installing around the center and provided to other commands on the island. The team is really going after anything they can to help with the process.”