Apple takes on coronavirus test kit shortages, awards $10M to Copan Diagnostics

The grant will allow Copan to produce more than 1 million COVID-19 test kits per week by early July

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Apple will award $10 million to aid Copan Diagnostics, a top manufacturer of sample collection kits used in COVID-19 testing, in its efforts to ramp up production as U.S. hospitals contend with shortages of necessary supplies, the company announced Thursday.

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Derived from Apple’s $5 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund, the grant will allow Copan to produce more than 1 million kits per week by early July, up from several thousand per week at its current capacity. In addition, Apple will assist the medical supply firm with the sourcing of necessary materials and support Copan’s move into a larger facility based in Southern California.

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“Way more important than the money, we're bringing operational and automation expertise to the problem to dramatically increase their capacity and see if we can make a big dent in this backlog from U.S. hospitals of specimen kits,” Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said in an exclusive interview with FOX Business Network correspondent Susan Li.

Copan is the inventor and one of the world’s only manufacturers of flocked swabs, a design recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use in the collection of COVID-19 samples. The Italy-based company has faced unprecedented demand for collection and transport kits in recent months as the pandemic has intensified, straining its limited production capabilities.

The Trump administration and public health experts have identified enhanced coronavirus testing as a key component of efforts to reopen the U.S. economy after a weeks-long shutdown.

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Copan CEO Norman Sharples said Apple’s technological support is “far greater” than the $10 million grant. The tech giant will provide critical expertise on automation, allowing Copan to hit ambitious production targets while handling delicate medical supplies.

“To partner with a company like Apple, it’s so exciting because not only are they wishing to invest in us, but they’re investing all their skill sets, all their innovation, all their design. I think only with Apple’s help could we even imagine to fast track this ambitious project and be able to deliver product in July,” Sharples said.

Apple is designing advanced equipment for the facility in conjunction with K2 Kinetics, a firm based in York, Pennsylvania, and MWES, based in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Alongside its move to a new facility, Copan will hire about 50 new employees to assist with ramped-up production goals.

“We did a global search for suppliers who could help with automation equipment and we found two suppliers we haven't been working with, one in Pennsylvania and one in Wisconsin, and we're now working with them and doing some design work,” Williams said. “And what Copan thought was going to take six months in terms of increasing their capacity, we're going to try to do by next month.”

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Apple has undertaken several initiatives to aid the fight against the novel coronavirus. The company distributed nearly 10 million face shields to aid front-line health care workers contending with shortages of personal protective equipment and sourced more than 30 million face masks for areas with severe outbreaks.

Additionally, Apple worked with the CDC to create a symptom-tracking website for COVID-19 and has partnered with Google to develop contact-tracing technology meant to aid authorities in identifying potential hot spots.

To date, Apple has invested more than $1 billion from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund. The initiative aims to support innovation for U.S.-based manufacturers at the growth stage.

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