Milliken Innovation Helps Boost COVID-19 Protective Face Shield Production

July 15, 2020 by Zach Adams

As our world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic many impacts, beyond those prompted by communities going in lockdown, are coming to light. One is the severe shortage of medical and protective face shields and screens. One key driver is the limited supply of raw materials such as copolyesters, a plastic material used to produce them and first and foremost, this has impacted healthcare professionals.

Milliken innovations are, at their core, solutions and, within this problem, we saw a way to leverage our capabilities to help solve the growing face shield shortage. Our material science experts explored, envisioned and collaborated with partners to help meet the demands of the healthcare industry, and others, for clear plastic shields as preventative hygiene measures.

For the Milliken Chemical Division, the solution was clear — manufacturers would have to consider different options for their raw materials. Given the urgency to boost the production of face shields and screens, any plan would need to use alternative, but existing, materials and technologies in a new way. Plastic manufacturers offered the readily available polypropylene, or PP, as an alternative material, however PP is naturally hazy, so they turned to Milliken, and the company’s NX® UltraClear™ polypropylene concentrate, to produce plastics with crystal clear clarity, suitable for healthcare industry face shields and other needed applications.

For years, Milliken’s NX UltraClear has helped provide the highest level of transparency in polypropylene, making the plastic a leading choice for homeware and food packaging applications. The clarity achieved by using NX UltraClear concentrates made Milliken, and its partners, hopeful that polypropylene would be suitable for face shields, too. Milliken conducted trial runs with plastic manufacturers around the world and discovered that polypropylene could, in fact, be a viable alternative to PET or copolyesters.

“We are all facing challenges brought on by COVID-19,” says Zach Adams, Milliken’s Global Product Line manager for Millad® NX 8000, the clarifying additive that produces NX UltraClear PP, “yet, we have been so encouraged by the teamwork across industries as we all pivot our capabilities to better answer the needs of our global community.”

In just a few weeks from discovering that PP made a viable alternative, companies like Impact Plastics in the U.S., Mezger in Germany and Argento Plastics in South Africa were incorporating NX UltraClear concentrates to produce highly transparent polypropylene sheets, which are being supplied to companies manufacturing face shields and screens. These are already in the market and being used by front-line workers.

In the words of Milliken president and CEO, Halsey Cook, “In this global pandemic, we are committed to finding solutions that assist our customers, and communities around the world, and that allow us to join in the fight against COVID-19 wherever we can make a difference.”

Learn more about how we are pivoting our capabilities to make an impact:

Milliken Takes on Disinfectant in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

Milliken Pivots Manufacturing to Produce Fabrics for Medical PPE