Garment companies turn into mask making companies
As the number of coronavirus cases around the world continues to climb, the World Health Organization is warning of a potential shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Manufacturers in Italy, France and beyond — including LVMH and Coty — are pivoting their production lines to create in-demand hydroalcoholic gel and masks. A French factory that happens to make an item that is suddenly one of the world’s hottest commodities: the medical face mask.
The factory, in Angers, typically makes around 170 million masks a year, but in the last week orders arrived for a staggering half a billion, flooding the sales department’s inboxes at the rate of one every two minutes. Kolmi Hopen is racing to hire more workers to keep the machines running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The latest updates is that many garment manufacturing units in Italy and other parts of world as well are turning to make masks instead of garments. Fashion designers and manufacturers are rebooting their operations to help with shortages of masks and gowns in the coronavirus pandemic. Time is of the essence, so Italian textiles and manufacturing companies are evaluating options to reconvert their production to meet the needs of the country.
Find out the video of a company that recently converted its production to mask instead of garments
The situation is similar in China as well where as thousands of face masks manufactured in China get stuck at customs for bureaucratic reasons. An additional 200,000 medical face masks produced by Turkish company Comitec, already paid for by the Emilia-Romagna region to supply its hospitals, have been stopped since March 4 at the Ankara port waiting to get a green light form Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Trade.
China now makes 200 million face masks a day — more than twenty times the amount it made at the start of February. The leap has been spurred by the outbreak of a new coronavirus. The masks include the lightweight ones that people like to wear in the hope of protection against coronavirus as well as the heavy-duty N95 masks used by health-care workers. But that’s still not nearly enough to meet local demands as well as global orders. So a scramble is now underway in China.
“Mask factories are “running at 110 percent capacity,” say authorities. And factories that once made shoes, iPhones and cars are being retooled to make masks. Machines that once churned out fibrous materials destined for diapers and sanitary pads are now producing materials for masks.“
Even in US the scenario is same. Los Angeles Apparel is making surgical masks; it will soon begin making hospital gowns as well. Dov Charney, the company’s founder and the former head of American Apparel, hopes his 150,000-square-foot factory can produce 300,000 masks and 50,000 gowns in a week. Christian Siriano, the fashion designer, has reassigned his 10 seamstresses in New York. They are beginning to make masks and hope to produce a few thousand a week.
Hanes clothing company is retrofitting factories to make masks to combat the aggressive spread of novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump announced at a press conference Saturday. The company later confirmed it was pairing with the government to make N95 masks for health careworkers on the front line of fighting the disease.
Why making mask is not easy?
While on one hand the demand is surpassing supply on the other making masks is not as easy as you imagine as it requires special machines, fabrics and technology to be created. “ We have to make the ear loops and the metal strip, the packaging. There is a pretty big system involved,” Guan Xunze, chairman of pharmaceutical group Shengjingtong in northeastern China.
Both the masks made for medical personnel and for consumer purchase require a once-obscure material called melt-blown fabric. It's an extremely fine mesh of synthetic polymer fibers that forms the critical inner filtration layer of a mask, allowing the wearer to breath while reducing the inflow of possible infectious particles.
And there’s now a global shortage of melt-blown fabric due to the increased demand for masks — and the difficulty in producing this material.
Costing upward of 3.8 million euros ($4.23 million) apiece, the machine that creates this fabric melts down plastic material and blows it out in strands, like cotton candy, into flat sheets of melt-blown fabric for face masks and other filtration products. A similar line of machines can create a related kind of fabric, called spun-bond fabric, also used in face masks and in medical protection suits worn by health-care workers.
Technology for masks is not easy
The machines are not easy to make because of the exacting precision required as you need to stretch these fibers by hot air, and [the air] needs to be in perfect condition over the width of the machine. The biggest dilemma is that many of the machines are not producing consistent quality.
Chinese engineering firms say they’re struggling. “We need about six months to make the machines, and it takes another month to assemble them,” said Leo Liu, a sales director at Haigong Machinery, a Chinese company that assembles the machine parts for melt-blown lines imported from the US, Germany and Japan. “Everyone is considering mask manufacturing, but they don’t understand the process. Once they learn the cost of these machines, they give up.
Sakho group is offering technology for seam sealing which is widely used in creation of biohazard suits..