COVID-19 began impacting Australia in February 2020. By mid-March the exponential rise in confirmed cases was causing a surge in the demand for personal protective equipment such as surgical face masks. Surgical face masks have been identified as a critical resource in the fight against the virus.
With disruptions to the global supply chain, the Australian Government sought to address potential shortages of medical equipment, such as surgical face masks and the materials to make them, with local manufacturers. In order to meet the growing demand, it was now vital to mobilise local manufacturers and repurpose production facilities to produce surgical face masks at very large scale here in Australia.
A collaboration was quickly underway between the Australian Government, CSIRO and targeted Australian manufacturers to develop and test materials and manufacturing processes need to produce the masks.
Helping industry adapt
We've had a long-term partnership with Melbourne non-woven fabric manufacturer, Textor Technologies.
The textile equipment used to produce Textor’s products can also be used to make filtration material suitable for surgical masks.
Using our pilot scale facilities at Waurn Ponds, Textor is rapidly adapting to see if they can manufacture the material at commercial scale. Our role is to test the performance of the material, before it goes on to accreditation testing. The material will then be converted into finished surgical masks (bonded, pleated, ties or elastic, and suitably packaged) by Victorian surgical mask manufacturer, Med-Con.
Until recently Med-Con was Australia’s only manufacturer of surgical masks, typically producing around two million units per year out of its Shepparton facility. As a result of COVID-19, the SME is now being asked to increase its production by at least tenfold. This will mean introducing more machines to its factory and increasing its workforce to cope with demand.
Concurrently to scaling up production of non-woven filtration material, we are also developing potential alternative materials that could be used in other medical equipment. We are refining this technology, and if successful, will then work with a commercial textile company to scale up the production process.
In another Team Australia approach we have been working with Flinders University, University of South Australia and Detmold to provide advice and equipment for a new mask testing facility in South Australia announced last week, which will test locally made respirators and surgical masks.
Working with our manufacturing industry partners we're finding innovative ways to respond to increased product demand as a result of COVID-19 and overcome production challenges to boost productivity.
We're supporting Australia's Manufacturing industry by helping develop new materials, products, and processes. Our scientific and engineering innovations help to transition Australian manufacturing into a globally connected, economically viable, high-technology sector.