Unmasking the contribution of local innovation to the COVID-19 response in SA

By Varushka Padayachi
Digital Manager

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 on a daily basis to help keep food and essential supplies and services on track, as well as PPE manufacturers who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the health of essential workers. BBF Safety Group has managed to completely localise the manufacture of its masks, contributing to both the need for PPE as well as the South African economy.

Since 2015, BBF Safety Group, has been actively involved in the localisation of components for its 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 general public, BBF managed to upscale its 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 percent, with plans in place to further increase capacity by an additional 200 percent in coming months to assist in the supply of critical preventative PPE and support the reopening of industry.

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 led 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 percent local fabrics; an innovation that will continue into the future.

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

“With the high demand for 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. With the support of the government, one of our SMMEs was awarded a temporary sales permit to manufacture FFP2 masks within five days (a process that normally takes around two months), 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.

BBF Safety staff
BBF Safety staff

Responding to demand

Because the WHO and the SA Government has determined that FFP2 masks should be reserved for health workers, BBF Safety Group also developed the NIKKI reusable mask for general population use. The mask is cloth, made from breathable fabric and comes with a replaceable filter. The NIKKI mask is washable and can be used up to ten times if cared for properly.

In a bid to create a mask that can service the general population in a bid to stem the spread, the team looked at ways to integrate multi-layers and a filter. The result was a mask that has improved filtration efficiency, minimal breathing resistance and is comfortably lightweight.

Eugene du Toit – group innovations manager, BBF Safety Group, says: “We have worked tirelessly to create solutions that are relevant and effective. The COVID-19 crisis has given the whole world a new appreciation of the value of life and how important it is to look after ourselves and each other. Our staff have all played an integral part in bringing these new masks and new ways of manufacturing into being and I applaud their efforts and dedication – their incredible perseverance meant we were able to innovate and begin producing within a two-week period, which included the Easter weekend and other public holidays.”

There are so many people working behind the scenes to ensure a safe South Africa – and many of them will never be recognised for their innovation, creativity, passion and bravery. But we as a nation have demonstrated time and again, our strength is in our people.

“We are so proud of our staff who fearlessly arrive at work every day. Many of them are scared about the virus and unsure of how to keep themselves and their families safe, despite the plethora of health messaging – and yet they still come because they know they are doing important work,”

adds Silvio Ceriani – Group CEO, BBF Safety Group.

As the world battles this unprecedented time of social distancing, economic straits and health crisis, it’s vital for everyone to do what they can to keep the South African economy’s momentum. By ensuring we support local manufacturing and become as self-sufficient as possible, we can not only survive, but thrive.

Digital issue View Archive

Industrial Buyer May/ June 2020

In the May/June edition of Industrial Buyer we look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed and is continuing to have an impact on the global and local manufacturing industry. We take a focused look at health and safety in the workplace, especially with regard to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and as always provide...

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za