Beginning in March, Pine Bluff Arsenal took initial measures to design, test and produce cloth face coverings in support of the Department of Defense and Center for Disease Control and Prevention directives during the COVID-19 global pandemic response.
PBA already had an existing cut-sew and seam mission in support of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, producing neck dams, Chemical Protective Patient Wraps and Integrated Footwear Systems. Therefore, equipment and personnel were not the issue.
With a quick ramp up and turnaround, the Arsenal has produced approximately 8,700 cloth face coverings as of April 27. Of those, approximately 7,600 have been shipped out to Joint Munitions Command and TACOM installations, with more orders being placed, produced and shipped daily.
“It is remarkable how quickly we came up with multiple designs and how adaptable PBA has been with this effort. This project has high visibility,” said Roch Byrne, Arsenal Deputy to the Commander. “The fine men and women who have worked tirelessly on this project need to be commended for their efforts. It is indeed an honor to be called upon during the COVID-19 response and be able to deliver a quality product to protect our Soldiers and Civilians."
Steven Gray, chief of Chemical and Biological Production, with the Arsenal’s Directorate of Chemical and Biological Defense, said the start of the project began in late March. “We got a call about the possibility of making a M95 or equivalent mask,” he said. “We were also tasked with using the materials we had on hand at the time.”
Gray said they began to develop a few prototypes and material possibilities during the project’s first week and initial ramp up. “We took the first batch of coverings to the Arsenal’s Quality Evaluation Facility for testing and realized they weren’t going to work. They didn’t quite have the filtration we needed,” he said. “We switched gears, and started to look at the High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA media PBA currently uses on one of the filter production lines. This media is paper, not real durable, but we tried it anyways.”
At this time, Gray said there was a lot of discussions between JMC and AMC about the requirements for the coverings.
“The design finally ended up being a basic surgical-type face covering. PBA came up with the design and materials we are using now. This was the quickest solution to the problem,” he said. “How we got to this point is we were authorized to buy a few materials to begin making better prototypes. We found a polypropylene HEPA filter a bit more durable than the filter paper, along with cloth with anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, and cotton to cover the face on the inside. The covering has elastic straps that allow it to fit pretty tight to the face.”
John Burkhead, CB director, said his initial support with the face-covering project was providing supply chain and market research. “This has been a very difficult process with the shortage of supplies. That was a big thing. When I would call a vendor if we didn’t place the order right then, the materials were gone,” he said.
Burkhead said the entire team has gone above and beyond on this project. “Steven Gray, Jason Fullen, Julee Johnson, Maurice Brewer, Robert Gibson and our entire textile production team have done an outstanding job answering the call to protect the JMC and AMC workforce,” he said. “The textile team received outstanding support from the Material Management, Project Management and Risk Management directorates. It has truly been a team effort.”
Currently two shifts are working on the PBA textile line. The line initially started with seven trained personnel. Cloth face coverings have been shipped to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Scranton Army Ammunition Plant in Pennsylvania, Toole Army Depot in Utah, Chemical Materials Activity in Maryland, Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, Blue Grass Chemical Activity in Kentucky, Rock Island Arsenal-Joint Munitions Command in Illinois, Letterkenny Munition Center in Pennsylvania, Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee, Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia, Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Iowa, Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Indiana, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, Anniston Munitions Center in Alabama, Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada, Sierra Army Ammunition Depot in California, and Milan Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee.