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An Industry Goes Viral

The textile and clothing industry supplies protective equipment in the fight against corona

The corona crisis has not stopped at the European textile and clothing industry. Global supply chains are tearing apart, missing supplies of raw materials or yarns are causing the production lines in the following process stages to come to a standstill, the major car manufacturers have stopped production with extreme consequences for suppliers from the textile industry, stationary clothing trade has come to a virtual standstill, orders are being cancelled. Every company is currently facing a multitude of tasks that have never existed before and now need to be solved.

Lightning survey in the textile industry

The German Industrial Association Finishing – Yarns – Fabrics – Technical Textiles e.V. (IVGT), Frankfurt/Germany, determined in a survey among its member companies that two thirds of the companies had to record a decrease in turnover of 5-50% January-March 2020. However, one third of the companies had a good start into the 1st quarter (Q1) 2020 with an average turnover increase of 11%.
44% of companies state that they have an availability problem. As textile companies are closed e.g. in Italy, there is already a lack of important products such as yarns and fabrics. Moreover, the closure of all borders is leading to enormous delays in delivery.
According to the current survey, about two thirds of the companies already report an interruption of the supply chains. Further applications for short-time work and plant closures are to be expected. Short-time work exists or is planned for about 70% of those surveyed.
The European Apparel and Textile Confederation (Euratex), Brussels/Belgium, is also conducting a survey among European companies: preliminary results indicate that more than half of the companies expect a drop in sales and production of more than 50%. Moreover, almost 9 out of 10 companies face serious constraints on their financial situation and 80% of companies are temporarily laying off workers. 1 out of 4 is considering closing down the company.
Euratex, as a representative of the textile and apparel sector, is concerned about the crisis and the pressure on the functioning of the internal market. Border controls within the European Union (EU) have increased sharply, leading to delays in supplies but also the cancelling of orders, thus aggravating the economic impact. Many companies in the textile and apparel sector work under high global pressure, with limited absorption capacity for such a crisis, and this survey shows that measures need to be taken immediately. Euratex already asked the European Commission to foresee fiscal and financial relief, ensure a coherent approach across EU Member States and avoid limitations to the free movement of goods and of the workforce.

But the textile industry is also an important player in the fight against the corona virus …

Due to the exponential increase in the number of infections worldwide, stocks of protective equipment are rapidly dwindling. This is compounded by supply bottlenecks and failures.
Well-known textile and clothing manufacturers such as Eterna Mode Holding GmbH (Passau/Germany), Rösch Fashion GmbH & Co. KG (Tübingen/Germany), the Trigema Inh. W. Grupp e.K. (Burladingen/Germany) and many other companies are currently converting and manufacturing protective masks and protective clothing in their own production facilities.
In many cases these are not FFP (filtering facepiece) masks that protect against viruses, but masks that can significantly reduce the risk of infection and are a good measure for caregivers, private individuals and companies.

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The Schiesser Group, Radolfzell/Germany, has also examined the implementation of the production of protective masks and/or protective clothing in its own production plants against the background of the utilization of production capacities to maintain jobs. Any sewing or production capacities that become free are to be made available to third parties, for example, who come from the specialist industry and have the necessary know-how and meet the correspondingly high standards. These are just a few examples – new innovative ideas and offers from textile and apparel companies are being added daily. 
Trade associations and institutes are dealing with the networking of manufacturers and purchasers via new web platforms, through which an exchange of demand and supply of protective equipment, especially face masks, is to be established.
The international association serving the nonwovens and related industries, Edana, Brussels/Belgium, is working closely with the European Commission, the nonwovens supply chain and other players, in order to find solutions to the provision of essential medical and protective equipment.
In cooperation with the European trade association for the medical technology industry including diagnostics MedTech, Brussels/Belgium, Edana is mapping the capacities of meltblown nonwovens in Europe. One focus lies on capacities being or able to be additionally supplied to masks converters. The supply of these resources in the EU heavily depends on third countries, in particular from Asia. Edana therefore concludes that a European export ban or restriction on medical face masks and personal protective equipment would be potentially counter-productive.
The EU intends to create a strategic stockpile of medical equipment, such as ventilators, personal protective equipment, reusable masks, vaccines and therapeutics and laboratory supplies. The European Commission will finance 90% of the costs of the stockpiling and will manage the distribution of the equipment to ensure it goes where it is needed most.
Edana intends to gather and provide necessary information to the EU and private companies, in order to accelerate the procurement of medical and protective nonwovens products.

The manufacturers of machines for nonwovens are trying to drastically reduce the delivery times for new nonwovens lines. In order to support the establishment of domestic production facilities, the machinery and components manufacturer Reifenhäuser Reicofil GmbH & Co. KG, Troisdorf/Germany, has reduced the delivery time for meltblown lines for the production of the crucial middle material layer for respirators to 3.5 months. The company also supplies technology for the production of other medical protective clothing, such as surgical gowns. Such equipment can be delivered within 10-11 months.

In addition, Reifenhäuser even currently uses its own technical center, in which customer trials are normally carried out 24/7, for the production of ultra-fine nonwovens. Approx. 1 million protective masks can be produced daily from this material.

A leading Asian large-scale manufacturer of man-made fibers and polymers has invested in a new meltblown system of the Nonwoven Business unit of the Manmade Fibers segment of Oerlikon Management AG, Pfäffikon/Switzerland. The contract comprises a 2-beam system for manufacturing filtration nonwovens – predominantly for medical products such as face masks – with a nominal capacity of up to 1,200 tons of nonwovens a year. The commercial production launch has been scheduled for the Q4/2020. 

The 2-beam system has an operating width of 1.6 m and is equipped with the new patented Oerlikon Nonwoven electro-charging unit. Electro-charging the filter nonwovens allows the manufacture of sophisticated EPA-and HEPA-class filter media as well as media that comply with the requirements of N95, FFP2 and FFP3 class respiratory masks.

With the agreement of their members – including DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung (German Institute for Standarization)) – and in consultation with the European Commission, the European standards organizations CEN and CENELEC have decided to make a number of European standards for medical devices and personal protective equipment available free of charge in order to help combat the corona pandemic.

The time after corona…

Do we just have to concentrate on somehow getting our company through this difficult time and then picking up where we were taken by surprise? Dr. Rüdiger Fox, Managing Director of Sympatex Technologies GmbH, Unterföhring/Germany, was among those who addressed this question: “Or doesn’t the current situation pose a much deeper challenge for leadership, namely to perceive what we can learn from it for the future and how we can support this process”.

 

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