Milliken & Company Mobilizing Production of Medical Textiles in Battle against COVID-19

Jeff Morris, Senior Vice President, Protective Fabrics at Milliken

Jeff Morris, senior vice president, Protective Fabrics at Milliken

Milliken & Company (Spartanburg, SC) is rapidly mobilizing on several fronts to ramp up production of newly engineered fabrics and inputs for personal protective equipment (PPE) to support healthcare workers in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Jeff Morris, senior vice president of protective fabrics at Milliken, is co-leading the company’s Medical Fabrics Task Force, coordinating efforts across Milliken’s Textile Division as well as tapping networks to repurpose existing fabrics for PPE products.

Morris said the divisional task force is “engaging all elements of our business to utilize our in-house capabilities in order to meet the needs created by COVID-19, especially those of our healthcare workers.”

A key part of Milliken’s strategy is increasing production of its patented BioSmart® fabric, which uses bleach-activated technology to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria.

Milliken is also working across the division to repurpose fabrics and get them into production with a network of cut and sew operations to produce several medical textile products.

Morris said, “In a very short period of time, Milliken has taken existing products in our portfolio and repurposed them to meet certain standards” of The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) for Levels 1-2.

Scaling up Production of Anti-microbial BioSmart® Fabric

Milliken, a global diversified manufacturer, has ramped up domestic production of its BioSmart fabric during the coronavirus crisis. The advanced material integrates anti-microbial protection into a wide range of medical products including scrubs, lab coats and privacy curtains.

The company’s Biosmart fabric, first launched in 2007, is a patented bleach-activated technology that turns textiles into another layer of defense against microbial exposure.

Production of Milliken's BioSmart fabric.

Production of Milliken’s BioSmart fabric.

Morris pointed to a 60 Minutes interview with a doctor, who discussed the routine he goes through each night to protect his family from contracting the disease. He puts his scrubs in a bag, drops them into the wash and sterilizes them with Clorox bleach, while also showering to remove any potential traces of the virus from the hospital.

“This is where Milliken’s anti-microbial technology can add value,” Morris said. “Our BioSmart product is a textile enhancement. We apply BioSmart technology on fabrics for scrubs, lab coats, face masks and hospital privacy curtains. BioSmart binds chlorine to fabric, so if the doctor is washing a garment in chlorine bleach, they are now going to recharge the chlorine protection to the surface of that garment, which will give them an added level of protection.”

“You are putting another barrier between you and that virus potentially spreading to the next person,” he added.

Milliken Increases Production of Advanced Medical PPE

Another prong of Milliken’s PPE strategy is engineering textiles into medical-grade fabrics for Level 1 and 2 gowns.

The company is now manufacturing new critical barrier protection fabrics to be used in gowns and headcovers for health care professionals and is also researching and developing material inputs for face masks, Milliken said in a press release.

“Our team of scientists and developers are fully engaged, uncovering solutions to address critical medical and protective needs for those fighting on the front lines of this pandemic,” stated Chad McAllister, president of Milliken’s Textile Division and EVP, Milliken & Company.

The new innovations complement an existing range of products that can be used for temporary shelters and privacy dividers for transitory field hospitals.

Milliken’s advanced medical fabrics and barriers meet the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 ANSI/AAMI/PB70 Standard and are used in gowns in minimal-risk, low-risk and moderate-risk situations.


Behind the Scenes of a Textile Giant–Repurposing Fabrics for PPE

Morris said Milliken has been working diligently to convert fabrics and greige goods to get them to the level of protection that is useful in the healthcare space.

“We turned this thing pretty quickly-in about a week’s time. We went from having a minimal offering to an offering in almost a week,” he added.

Milliken teams have spent hours working remotely—to develop plans for pivoting existing in-house fabrics to materials for healthcare workers.

With graduations across the country on hiatus during the coronavirus crisis, Milliken, one of the largest producers of the fabric, has a portion of its inventory for PPE products.

“By adding unique chemistry and solutions through creative thinking, we are able to repurpose those fabrics to meet Level 1 and Level 2 protective products,” Morris said.

“There are two paths Milliken is going down. We are working on all fabrics for wearable garments [and converting them into Level 1 and Level 2 medical fabrics]. We are also looking at how we can transform materials from our nonwovens business, which has typically been for the automotive industry, into protective masks and gowns,” he said.

A worker sewing fabric for Level 1 gowns together

Morris said Milliken is working with cut and sewers to design hospital gowns to make them more wearable and “reusable” than the current disposal products.

Illustrating how the company is working with its traditional customer base, which primarily makes industrial workwear and flame-resistant garments, Morris pointed to a long-time customer in Cleveland, Ohio—National Safety Apparel—which has historically produced PPE products for electrical workers, industrial workers and other safety-oriented products.

Having been deemed “essential” by authorities, National Safety Apparel has converted its manufacturing to help supply the urgent needs of healthcare workers.  Milliken is providing Level 1-and 2 tested fabrics for NSA to produce protective gowns.

It is just one example of many where Milliken is working with traditional customers to supply fabrics for medical PPE products.

Milliken will continue to work with a network of cutting and sewing operations that are also repurposing their manufacturing lines from office furniture, automotive, upholstery, and industrial workwear products to medical textile products for the healthcare industry.

The National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) has been a “big facilitator in brokering with a number of cut and sewers,” Morris said. “These are cut and sewers that we don’t typically work with domestically who make men’s dress shirts, suits and tailored products. As these lines turn towards medical PPE, we are able to come alongside their efforts and supply critical fabrics.”

Ultimately the company’s goal is to develop a long-term, sustainable business.

“Milliken wants to help, and we’ve shifted to meet this immediate need,” Morris said. “As we move forward, there are a number of lessons industries can apply from this experience. You need to have diversity in your supply chain. You need to keep domestic manufacturing more viable. Furthermore, this has opened our eyes to the necessity of medical PPE at any time, something which inspires us to support both now and into the future. It is not always about the lowest price.”