Project Highlight: Rapid-Response Automated PPE Production in Shipping Containers

Automation, Fabrics, Robotics

Enabling Manufacturing Automation, Supply Chain Diversification and Addressing the Environmental Impact of PPE

Project Team & Funding

AFFOA (Prime Contractor), ARM Institute (Principal Investigator), Henderson Sewing, Sewbo, Siemens, Carnegie Mellon University, Bluewater Defense, and Yaskawa.

Funding for this project is provided by the U.S Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) through an American Rescue Act Grant to increase access to advanced manufacturing opportunities.

Background & Problem Statement

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed our nation’s inability to rapidly manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and other materials due to our reliance on offshore manufacturing. Even beyond pandemics, the nation must be prepared to rapidly manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), such as in cases of environmental disasters.

This project seeks to catalyze an automated, mobile and deployable solution that can rapidly manufacture PPE, specifically surgical masks and general use face masks, where and when PPE is needed with a minimum of resources, training, and time needed to set up and begin production.


This project leverages collaboration between two Manufacturing Innovation Institutes part of the Manufacturing USA Network – the ARM Institute and AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America) – to build surgical and face mask production lines housed within a shipping container. The project will also leverage outputs from previous ARM Institute projects focused on robotics apparel manufacturing, including Bot Couture: Robotic Clothing Manufacturing. By using a shipping container, the production lines will be easily transported and set-up and the point of need.

Specifically, this project will work to:

  • Create an overall PPE shipping container platform with self-contained, deployable systems that can be shipped via standard logistics networks to any place in need.​
  • Scale and adapt the ARM Institute’s Rapid PPE Production through Automation & Robotics (RAPPAR) Project, which leverages robotic automatic visual inspection, picking-and-sorting, and end-of-line packing and palletizing for disposable surgical face mask production. The ARM Institute will adapt this project to fit within the space constraints of two shipping containers and streamline end-user deployment steps. In conjunction, the ARM Institute will develop training and operational materials to support ease of use. Validate the functionality of the system for disposable mask production.
  • Scale and adapt the ARM Institute’s Built-By-Bot Project mask sewing system to expand its product offering beyond the single design of face masks and to fit the end-to-end production process within a standard shipping container. The team will develop training and operational materials to support ease of use. The ARM Institute will also validate the functionality and performance of the system for reusable general use mask production as well as define a path to produce head coverings (caps) and disposable shoe covers (booties).

The shipping containers will house the necessary production equipment using pre-configured advanced robotics to start producing PPE on short notice.​ The production lines will be able to be taken from set-up to production within days, rather than months.