May 6 (UPI) -- 3M has signed a $126 million deal with the Pentagon to increase its production of N95 masks to 26 million per month beginning in October 2020.
The increase is intended to resupply the Strategic National Stockpile in response to increased national demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to "continue to ensure a sustainable supply chain of N95 respirators," the Department of Defense said Wednesday in a statement.
Under the deal, 3M will increase N95 respirator production by at least 312 million per year within the next 12 months, the Pentagon said.
In order to increase capacity, 3M will expand its facility in Aberdeen, S.D., as well as expanding production of the masks to Wisconsin.
In late April, 3M received $76 million from the Department of Defense to make N95 masks.
At that time the company was contracted to provide 78 million units within six months, with an additional 13 million units per month by June.
N95 respirator masks, considered the safest for use in medical settings, have been in short supply since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to criminal charges for price gouging, revised public health recommendations to include washable fabric masks and contracts for decontamination services so N95 masks can be sanitized and reused to address the immediate shortage.
Also on Wednesday, 3M announced Ford is shipping 10,000 powered air-purifying respirators, or PAPRs -- which the two companies collaborated to develop -- to protect healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to 3M, since the COVID-19 outbreak began, the company has doubled its global output of filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95s, to more than 1.1 billion per year, or 100 million per month -- with 35 million N95s being produced in the United States.
The company said that 90 percent of N95s it currently produces go directly to health care workers.
At the end of January, 3M, which currently employs 96,000 employees worldwide, announced it was laying off 1,500 workers globally in an effort to restructure the company.