PPE confidence in quality and supply means manufacturing at home

Monday, 05 July, 2021

When a healthcare or hospital worker dons a surgical face mask, or reaches for sterilisation wrap, do they stop to consider whether they, or their patients will be adequately protected?

We hope not. They should feel absolutely confident and secure in the fact that their PPE and infection control products are locally manufactured, at the highest quality standard, and that there will be as much supply as they need of all the products that they require.

Yet we quickly found at the beginning of the pandemic that this was not the case. Australia and New Zealand had been relying on foreign procurement with varying standards, and inconsistency of supply.

Among the lessons we have learned during the past year is the importance of supporting our healthcare providers and hospital system to ensure they can access everything they need to do their jobs — primarily looking after the health of their staff and their patients.

Disruptions in international supply of not only essential healthcare items such as surgical masks, respirators, surgical and isolation gowns, and critical sterilisation wraps, but also the base ingredients required for their manufacture, highlighted the vulnerability of a global market approach.

The only way to achieve certainty of supply is by ensuring self-sufficiency; the ability to manufacture everything we need in the volumes we require, to be available on demand.

For Softmed, an Australian company with history and experience in sourcing, distribution and logistics of medical-related supplies, it made sense to establish Australia’s first local, truly medical grade manufacturer of both PPE and infection control products, but also Melt-blown — the base raw material of most PPE.

Our research quickly revealed a few home truths:

  • Most PPE supplied to the Australian public during the pandemic was of a basic quality, and a temporary solution to a crisis situation.
  • Medical grade production requires a totally different standard of manufacturing — from the material grade to the cleanliness of the facilities.
  • The upgraded health and safety standards implemented during the pandemic would not be relaxed once the threat of the virus has diminished, which means there will be an ongoing need for large quantities of high-quality PPE and infection control products.

The regulatory environment is onerous, and the existing standards are high, but we understood from the outset that success involved exceeding all expectations and setting new standards. In other words — reinventing a sector that no longer exists in Australia.

Our decision to become a manufacturer at this level was not made lightly — but we knew we needed to move fast if we were to achieve the goal of Softmed becoming the largest manufacturer of medical grade PPE and infection control products in the region, as well as the only producer of some products such as surgical and examination nitrile gloves — which have never before been manufactured in Australia.

Once we understood the requirements, Softmed made a conscious decision to exceed the existing standards where possible, in order to make our products as attractive as possible to local and global markets.

We built an in-house testing facility as well as Level 7 clean rooms, ensuring self-reliance throughout every step of our process, and the ability to stand by our guarantee of manufacturing to the highest quality standards.

Further, we refused to compromise on eco-safety, and have committed to investing in an off-grid power supply system which will result in both lower production costs as well as safer manufacturing. Softmed also reinvests 5% of all profits into research of new materials and new technologies.

The lessons of complacency have been learned. Thanks to Softmed, Australia now has the highest quality, cost competitive, PPE and infection control product manufacturing in Australia, with guaranteed supply.

Finally, our frontline healthcare workers have peace of mind.

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