Pandemic preparation creates new opportunities for NZ manufacturer

A helping hand from the Industry Capability Network (ICN) has helped a New Zealand company develop two new product lines which would help cover the country during an influenza pandemic and one of which it is now aiming to export.

Wanganui manufacturer Quality Safety was awarded a substantial Ministry of Health (MoH) contract to make, supply and store a total of 20 million face masks to be used by health sector workers in the event of a pandemic.

The Ministry originally contacted the ICN in September 2005 to assist in identifying which protective equipment products could be sourced and even manufactured locally.

The ICN spent several weeks looking for existing and potential suppliers and evaluating the options.  It was finally decided that the one critical product that needed to be sourced locally was masks.  All the other items were either available in significant quantities or could be made or adapted relatively easily by existing suppliers

The search for a mask manufacturer eventually lead ICN Health and Infrastructure Procurement Advisor Ian Mallett to contact three Kiwi companies to see if they were prepared to undertake the significant investment in time and money required to source machinery capable of producing large quantities of general purpose and specialist surgical face masks.

Guy Collins, the general manager of Quality Safety, was eager to secure the contract and worked hard to meet all the Ministrys requirements which included sourcing machinery, having a site for manufacture and storage of raw materials, establishing and managing a stock pile and getting products tested to the MoH standards.

As a result, the company can now manufacture 26,000 procedure masks and 20,000 P2 respirator masks each day.

”We feel it was really nice that a company that which has only been going here in New Zealand for five years was granted this contract, Mr Collins said.

"The Ministry did a comprehensive study of our company before allowing us this contract and there was a lot of dotting of is and crossing of the ts before they were happy. It has also been the first major contract that we have done for the Ministry and obviously we have worked hard to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction. It is our impression that we have a happy customer and that we have built up a lot of credibility for the next opportunity that we tender on.

Mr Mallett said since fears of an avian flu pandemic arose, the demand for face masks had risen dramatically and, for a period of time, they were being imported by the container load and snapped up.

He said the MoH had expressed a desire to establish a domestic supply of face masks to meet demand in the event that New Zealands borders were closed meaning the masks would be in even greater demand but unable to be delivered.

Mr Mallett searched the ICNs database of companies starting with ones which produced industrial filters in the hope of finding a business which could adapt its manufacturing to produce the masks.

"We went off in all sorts of tangents looking at the possibilities, he said.  "It was a fascinating exercise.

A shortlist of several companies was compiled, one of which was Quality Safety.

Mr Collins said Quality Safety was now working towards exporting the P2 masks which it believed it could manufacture at an internationally competitive rate.

"Our mask is of a superior fit quality and the raw materials in the masks are of a very high standard for filtration.