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Auto supplier turns to surgical masks

Showtime: In just eight days, Evolve Group had purchased two surgical mask production lines, established a supply chain and developed testing and benchmarking processes with local universities.

Brisbane’s Evolve Group to produce about 60,000 N95 masks a day to aid COVID efforts

9 Apr 2020

BRISBANE-BASED automotive plastics supplier Evolve Group will begin producing N95 surgical facemasks in an effort to boost local supplies of critical personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


Once up and running, Evolve Group will have a maximum mask production capacity of more than 20 million units annually, alongside its existing activities as primary plastics supplier to Century Batteries and various other Australian automotive aftermarket businesses, as well as manufacturing its own off-road recovery equipment under the Tred brand.


Evolve Group joins a number of Australian automotive companies that have publicly stepped up or expressed intentions to bolster local availability of medical supplies, which so far include the Auto Innovation Centre, Ford Australia, Premcar, Redarc Electronics and Walkinshaw Group, as well as Supercars race teams including Erebus Motorsport, Team CoolDrive and Triple Eight Racing.


The Queensland state government provided Evolve Group with a $1.2 million grant to acquire the necessary equipment and raw materials to accelerate production of the masks for frontline healthcare workers.


In return, Evolve Group must ensure Queensland has priority access to the masks produced at its Crestmead facility.


Describing Evolve Group as “a great Queensland manufacturing story”, state manufacturing minister Cameron Dick said the investment “could see around 60,000 N95 facemasks manufactured each day to help meet the ongoing need for personal protective equipment”.


“All going well, we are aiming to have the first batch produced within eight weeks,” he said.


“This will support workers in health, community support, mining, construction and food processing.”


GoAuto understands that Evolve Group – which also helps inventors bring their products to market and assists established manufacturers in ‘reshoring’ overseas production back to Australia – aims to get production up and running in less than four weeks.


Managing director Ty Hermans said the diversification into surgical masks was the Evolve Group’s “most important project” to date and “something we have been training for since we started our reshoring mission back in 2006”.


“We are proud of our ability to apply our Queensland-based advanced plastics manufacturing facility and skills to a mission-critical project like this, supporting our frontline medical teams and others that are sacrificing so much right now,” he said.


Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) PR and communications manager Tyson Bowen told GoAuto that Evolve Group was also in talks to produce hand sanitiser bottles.


“Evolve Group were a project of ours when they reshored bottle-making, so they can do the bottles and closures and can ramp up to make a maximum of 20,000 an hour,” he said.


Mr Bowen said AMGC had introduced Evolve Group to a candle-making company in New South Wales that was planning to repurpose its facility to fill containers with hand sanitiser produced by a nearby distillery to WHO (World Health Organisation) standards.


The candle manufacturer – based in the Southern Highlands region – was one of more than 1800 that had applied the AMGC’s COVID-19 Response Register since its launch on March 25.


Mr Bowen explained how AMGC – which received 53 submissions from companies with capabilities and capacity for hand sanitiser production – was able to link the candle factory with Evolve Group and the distillery to create a complete hand sanitiser supply chain in just a day and a half.


“All of a sudden we’ve got a candle manufacturer that is bottling, a distillery that is 30 minutes up the road from them that is producing 20,000 litres of hand sanitiser a day and a supply chain for bottles,” said Mr Bowen.


“They’re still all working through the final details but we’ve got the three of them talking and they have a plan – that’s when we step away.”


On the subject of facemasks, Mr Bowen said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Australia’s total annual surgical mask production capacity was around two million units.


“That is five per cent of the Australian demand in a normal year,” he said.


“Within the space of three or four weeks, Med-Con (in Shepparton, Victoria) moved from two million per year to 50 million per year and Detmold (in Adelaide), which makes fast food and takeaway packaging, has moved to make facemasks and they’ll do 145 million a year.”


Mr Bowen added that like Evolve Group, Detmold had quickly gone from having no medical supply background to producing surgical masks.


Mr Hermans said reshoring the production of vital products such as surgical masks “has to be a priority for all Australians now and into the future”.


“Being Australian-made also ensures the production of high-quality products,” he added.


Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said local manufacturers “can and we must make these lifesaving products in Queensland”.


She also promised further support manufacturers with “long-term offtake agreements to ensure they keep manufacturing them here”.

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