Firms here adapting to step up fight against coronavirus

They are redesigning processes, changing product lines to tackle challenges brought on by crisis

Ghim Li Group deputy CEO Felicia Gan, 39, says the firm can scale up production to make 25 million masks a month depending on demand. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

Companies here are responding to the Covid-19 outbreak by coming up with test kits, making masks and adjusting their sterilisation equipment.

Social distancing measures implemented to curb the outbreak are testing firms' resilience and forcing them to not only redesign their work processes, but also to customise their products as well.

Companies are rising to the challenge. Nippon Paint and Corning Inc, a technology company based in the United States, have developed a special coating that protects workers from picking up viruses on painted surfaces.

The two companies hope antiviral coatings can better protect front-line healthcare workers, Nippon Paint said last month.

Companies based or grown in Singapore are changing their product lines during the current public health crisis as well.

Textile manufacturer Ghim Li Group, which has factories across South-east Asia, has converted 20 per cent of its production line and it can make between five and seven million reusable masks every month. The conversion, which involved reorganising the manufacturing process, took less than a month, said Ghim Li deputy chief executive Felicia Gan.

The company is also waiting for medical-related compliance approval to move into manufacturing protective gear such as medical gowns, Ms Gan told The Straits Times earlier this week.

"Our plan is to (also) convert one of our factories to fully provide for masks," she added.

The company can scale up its production to make 25 million masks a month depending on demand, said Ms Gan.

Like Nippon Paint, Ghim Li worked with external researchers on improving its products.

Ghim Li masks have a type of coating developed by Nanyang Technological University that strengthens the anti-bacterial and filtration capabilities of a fabric using organic raw materials.

With the help and technology of the university's researchers, Ghim Li looked into applying this technology to different fabrics.

The company also received advice from Enterprise Singapore on how to change its business model.

Ms Gan said: "Before Covid-19 became a global pandemic, Ghim Li saw a need and opportunity to accelerate our mask production to supply alternatives to surgical masks."

Meanwhile, biomedical products manufacturer Thermo Fisher Scientific has developed a test kit that can diagnose Covid-19 patients within four hours.

The kit has received provisional authorisation from the Health Sciences Authority.

Mr Ravi Shastri, managing director of Thermo Fisher Scientific in South-east Asia and Taiwan, said: "Stopping the spread of Covid-19 requires comprehensive testing solutions. Since the outbreak was first detected, we have mobilised our scientific, regulatory and commercial teams to support virus analysis, identification, deployment of personal protective equipment as well as development of therapies and vaccines."

Separately, Plasmatreat, which is headquartered in Germany, has adapted its atmospheric plasma technology to develop a sterilisation cabinet to clean personal protective equipment to address mask shortages.

Its local subsidiary's managing director Thomas Markert said that the company is building on the previous success of its Openair-Plasma jet systems against the Ebola virus to kill the Covid-19 virus.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2020, with the headline Firms here adapting to step up fight against coronavirus. Subscribe