• Robert Smith

What do Face masks, coffee filters and vacuum cleaner filter have in common?

The answer is Melitta. Because it now makes all three.


Chances are, you wouldn’t be drinking clean, filtered coffee today if it weren’t for German housewife Melitta Bentz. A century ago, she invented a disposable coffee filter out of paper. And the company she founded became so successful it expanded into other areas. Today, her spirit of innovation is being applied to a very different problem – face masks for the COVID-19 epidemic.


The convergence of three elements at Melitta made this possible -- the virus, its coffee filters and the vacuum cleaner filters it began making a few years ago.


Turns out Melitta’s coffee filters are perfectly shaped to cover your nose, mouth and chin. And Melitta vacuum cleaner filters are made with Wolf PVG – non-woven super thin fiber created by melt-blown extrusion. The same fiber and the same process used to make medical grade breathing masks.


Melitta managers already knew that. A decade ago, they toyed with getting into the face mask business, but decided not to compete with cheaper Asian Masks. Then came COVID-19 and sky-high prices for Personal Protective Equipment.


Suddenly Melitta had everything it needed to make medical-quality masks at pre-virus prices in its own German factory. It began re-tooling a coffee-filter production line and designed new masks with fold out ear loops – eliminating the need for rubber bands. Soon its engineers were feeding melt-blown non-woven fiber into machines that previously produced coffee filters.


Melitta made 10 million masks in its first month! The first million went to workers, retirees and their families. The second million are being donated locally.


Once the masks receive medical certification, Melitta will start selling them in Germany, with broader distribution to follow.


And there you have it. Another example of how a business with innovation in its blood can pivot – during a pandemic – inspiring others to ask, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”


SOURCES:

Mental Floss, accessed 5-19-2020. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/624455/melitta-making-coffee-filter-shaped-face-masks


New York Times, accessed 5-19-2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/10/business/coffee-filter-mask-melitta.html


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