Story updated 6 April: Australia’s only medical mask manufacturer, Med-Con, has had to step up production dramatically amid the Covid-19 crisis, and has contracted Foodmach to assist in expanding manufacturing capacity.
Echuca-based packaging machinery manufacturer Foodmach has been contracted to build three machines to make surgical face masks for Med-Con. Pre-coronavirus times, the mask manufacturer’s plant in Lemnos, Victoria was making about two million masks per year -- supplying about five per cent of the Australian market. But current pandemic-driven demand means it needs to increase production to 50 million masks per year.
The company has called on Echuca-based packaging machinery manufacturer Foodmach to build three machines to make surgical face masks.
Foodmach has started work on the project this week, with the first machine scheduled for delivery in eight weeks’ time.
Foodmach CEO Earle Roberts and board director Peter Marks are on site at Med-Con’s facility, overseeing the project.
“Our team will work around the clock to build the machines,” Roberts told PKN. “They are very complex machines, and obviously something Foodmach has never built before, but with all the required design, manufacture and assembly expertise under a single roof in Echuca, we are extremely well placed to assist.”
Peter Marks commented: “The request is to copy the existing equipment, but the machines are more than 30 years old, the drawings have been lost and many of the components are no longer made. Foodmach is using our collective skills to modernise the machines where needs be, without risking the machines being in production as soon as possible to assist in the fight against Covid-19.”
For Foodmach, with the downturn in the market, the order for the much-needed machines would be a boon to the company’s 100 employees, 65 of whom are in Echuca, according to Roberts.
“Typically when there’s a market downturn, business slows down, so this project assists us in keeping our staff busy and employed,” he said.
“Very large multinational engineering suppliers would usually take up this sort of job, but we can pretty much do everything in-house,” Roberts said, noting it would also potentially open the company up to larger international demand for machine manufacturing.
Med-Con usually fields a staff of 17, but the federal government recently confirmed deployment of about a dozen ADF personnel with engineering skills to help Med-Con ramp up production of personal protective equipment.
The company has already hired an additional 18 employees, and is looking at recruiting another 11 casual staff, to assist in meeting the federal goverment's massive order. Med-Con is contracted by the government until November. Meanwhile, the Victorian goverment has also placed an order for a million masks.
The company said it will be doubling production spaces, and also increasing warehousing by 50 per cent.
Update 6 April: Foodmach's contribution was featured by Channel 9 news here:
Foodmach is also running a project blog to share its progress.
Foodmach is a member of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA).