There’s no stronger visual representation of lock-down Britain than the humble face mask. Since the government announced that face coverings would be mandatory on public transport from June 15, masks are now seen as a crucial weapon in the battle against Covid-19 and are set to become commonplace for millions of us up and down the country for years to come.
Lifting the mask behind the origins of all the face masks entering this country reveals that the UK is in a precarious position when it comes to supply and demand of them.
Up until recently, the UK relied on importing the majority of its face masks from the Far East. Covid-19 has decimated supply chains around the globe and the once robust networks ground to a halt. It left manufacturers and suppliers looking at resources on their own doorsteps and sourcing locally. ‘Reshoring’ has since become the number one priority for companies around the globe as the reality dawned that solidity of supply was paramount.
With an abundance of furloughed staff and capacity in their facilities, one company in the Midlands saw an opportunity to answer the nation’s call for masks and, with Siemens’ help, they have a solution to free-up the gears of industry for businesses all over the UK.
Expert Advanced Manufacturing Technologies is one of the UK’s leading manufacturer of industrial automation systems, assembly tooling, automated assembly, special purpose machinery and single and multi-robotic cells, including robotic assembly. Since the outbreak of the virus earlier in the year they set to work building and automating a CE approved production line for face masks. The line in question is no bigger than 7m x 3.6m and can produce 80 to 100 masks per minute, or to put it another way, 144,000 per day and over 1m per week.
“This was a challenge that had to be answered,” said Dave Bartell, Expert’s Operations Director. “Using our partners at Siemens and Parmley Graham, we have been able to create a fully automated, CE certified, face mask production line. We have been able to bring a large proportion of our furloughed staff back to work, re-skill them and get them working on the development, manufacture and production of these new machines. We’ve shored-up a critical supply line for what will be a mass-consumed item over the coming years.”
Echoing this sentiment, Siemens’ Chief Technologist, Alan Norbury said: “Led by our approved technology partner Parmley Graham, we’ve helped Expert fast-track a 30-week project and bring a workable fully automated line to market in just 10 weeks. For me, this shows the strength of British ingenuity. I’d urge all manufacturers out there who have furloughed staff and removed products from their facilities to consider installing an Expert face mask line. The opportunity has presented itself to offer products to meet this unprecedented demand and manufacturers up and down the country could benefit from this solution."
This is a perfect opportunity for open minded business leaders currently struggling in their traditional markets to consider diversifying to the production of face masks. Simple calculations based on current face masks prices, overwhelming demand and the production volume capabilities of the Expert machine would soon reveal that the machine would pay for itself within a matter of months, while retaining staff and contributing to the balance sheet."