HomeHealth and safetyUnmasking local innovation in response to COVID-19

Unmasking local innovation in response to COVID-19

With the world in COVID-19 lockdown, local businesses are innovating to ensure essential products are still available – these innovators and the people making them are some of the unsung heroes who deserve to be celebrated.

The COVID-19 world crisis has changed the world’s narrative forever. There are many heroes in the story, health workers and those who deal with the public daily to help keep food and essential supplies and services on track.

But there are other, unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes and who are making a big contribution towards a positive outcome for South Africa.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on 23 April 2020 that there would be a slow phasing out of the national lockdown, he also called on all South African’s to wear masks when they leave home for essential activities; stating that our clothing and textile industry – including many small businesses – are gearing up to produce these masks on a mass scale.

Since 2015, BBF Safety Group, has been actively involved in the localisation of components for their Nikki dust mask through supplier partnership developments.

Understanding that there would be a dire need for quality masks for healthcare professionals as well as the public, BBF have managed to upscale their standard mask production capabilities, whilst localising previously imported components.

By doing this, not only is a vital product being locally produced, but it also ensures that the factory is able to guarantee continued and sustainable work for staff and workers.

Since the beginning of the year, Nikki mask production has increased by 75%, with plans in place to further increase capacity by an additional 200% in coming months to assist in the supply of critical preventative PPE and support the reopening of industry.

Silvio Ceriani – Group CEO, BBF Safety Group, says, “South African’s have entrepreneurship and innovation in their blood – we are a nation that doesn’t let much stop us and during this crisis, we know we’ll see incredible ideas and collaboration coming to the fore to make a positive difference in our country.”

Collaborative innovation

Although BBF Safety Group was already manufacturing masks as a standard line item, the lockdown in China meant that one essential filtration material, not yet produced locally, was no longer available for import.

Because the factory only had enough stock for four weeks of production; this lead to conversations with local manufacturers as well as government regarding the adaptation of materials to bring them in line with the filtration specifications and increase local production capacities to meet the new demand.

The government provided excellent incentives for this to happen as quickly as possible. The result is that the FFP2 masks can now manufactured using 100% local fabrics; an innovation that will continue.

Beyond localising materials, BBF grew local production by partnering with SMMEs.

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“With the high demand of FFP2 masks, and BBF already manufacturing at maximum capacity, we reached out to our SMME chain, which we have developed over years, to see if we could train up any teams to assist with additional mask production in line with the stringent manufacturing procedures.

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“With the support of the government, one of our SMMEs was awarded a temporary sales permit to manufacture COVID-19 FFP2 masks within five days, and they were quickly operational and able to add to the number of masks made weekly,” says, Deon van Rensburg – Group Operations Manager, BBF Safety Group.

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