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Amid niggles, production lines for protective gear start revving up in Punjab

A month on, according to Surgeine’s owner Harbhagat Singh, the supplier has “backtracked” and is no longer offering the machine even at double the cost.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh | Updated: April 21, 2020 11:12:44 am
Coronavirus cases, PPE priduction, Chandigarh news, Punjab news, indian express news The supplier, however, said that he had stopped offering the machine since the prices were fluctuating daily due to high demand from US and Europe. (Representational)

When Hoshiarpur-based Surgeine Safety Products started negotiations with a Pune supplier, Ravira Technology Services, to purchase an automated machine for making C-fold N95 masks, the firm did not anticipate that the cost of the machine would spike to double in a month.

A month on, according to Surgeine’s owner Harbhagat Singh, the supplier has “backtracked” and is no longer offering the machine even at double the cost.

The supplier, however, said that he had stopped offering the machine since the prices were fluctuating daily due to high demand from US and Europe.

Apart from four N95 mask manufacturing units in Punjab which got approval from the DRDO, 17 units in the state have been cleared to manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suits by South India Textile Research Association, Coimbatore.

While some units have already started the production, others are setting up the production lines and dealing with the issues of arranging ancillary and packaging material.

“Automated operations would have increased our capacity to manufacture N95 by at least five times. The only manual operations required in automated operations is attaching elastic to the masks,” said Harbhagat whose mask-manufacturing unit is among the four units in Punjab cleared by the DRDO to manufacture N95 masks to combat coronavirus.

With semi-automatic machinery, Harbhagat added, the unit has currently a capacity of making 4,000 N95 masks daily.

“We started production only recently and we have supplied 11,000 masks out of an order of one lakh to the Punjab Health Department,” he said.

About the firm’s attempt to purchase the automated machine, Harbhagat added, the supplier first gave a quotation of Rs 46 lakh and within days said that the machine cost has increased first to Rs 69 lakh and then to more than Rs 80 lakh. “We were ready to pay Rs 69 lakh also and when the price was increased to more than Rs 80 lakh, we were ready to negotiate that as well. But, now he says that he cannot supply the machine,” he said while seeking government intervention to get him the machine so that “we can serve the nation at this juncture”.

He pointed out that the firm had given an advance of Rs 20 lakh, but the supplier had started returning the money and had already “paid back Rs ten lakh”.

The CEO of Ravira Technology Services Private Limited, Rajendra Patil, however, said that “rates of such machinery were fluctuating on a daily basis”.

Patil said, “We were to import the machine from Hong Kong. The machinery is sourced from China or Taiwan. The quotation we gave had a validity of three days and the (Hoshiarpur-based) manufacturer did not confirm the order by that time. Again when the price increased to Rs 69 days, they did not respond in three days. The price then increased to Rs 84 lakh. It is fluctuating daily. So, we have stopped offering the machine now. It is very difficult for an Indian manufacturer to take a call in three days to buy a machine costing Rs 84 lakh. Due to huge number of cases in US and Europe, they are buying such machines even at such high costs. Due to this huge demand, the manufacturers have enhanced the price.”

Getting ready to ship supplies

Ashwani Garg of Ludhiana-based Paayas Incorporation, one of the four units in the state approved to make N95 masks, said he had purchased a semi-automatic machine from a supplier in Delhi recently. “The machine is manufactured in Taiwan. It was delivered only three days ago. We are in process of setting up the production line and hopefully first batch of N95 masks would be ready by this week,” said Garg.

He did not reveal the price at which he bought the machine, but said manufacturers were exploiting the situation. He added, “Even if I bought it at higher price, I am satisfied because it will serve the nation at this juncture.”

Akhil Malhotra of Ludhiana-based Shiva Tex Fab said, “We have modified the existing machinery to make N95 masks. It is all computerised.”

Malhotra, who said his company had 10 units in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh said, “Currently, we have a capacity to produce 20,000 masks daily which is likely to be ramped up to 50,000 a day in a week’s time.”

“Tomorrow onward, we will start the supply of masks. Right now our priority is to supply masks in Punjab. Later, we will also supply outside the state,” said Malhotra, adding that the company already had an order of 50,000 pieces from the Punjab government. He said that he was also planning to make masks in different colours so that users identify those by colours. “There may be five members in a family. If they use different colour masks, there would be no chance of one using the mask of other by mistake. I am going to discuss this proposal with a senior health official soon and if cleared we will start manufacturing masks in different colors,” said Malhotra, adding that “we have an integrated unit and we are manufacturing both PPE and N95 masks.”

Anil Vatsa of Ludhiana-based Swan Collection who has an order from HLL for supply of PPEs said the unit had a capacity to produce over 2,000 PPEs in a day and the first batch would be ready this week.

“There was a problem to mobilise labour as they were not getting curfew passes, else we could have increased the capacity by another 1,000 to 2,000 pieces. Also, the ancillary units are also a problem area. Like, we find it hard to get raw material like zippers. For packaging bags, I had to approach ten manufactures and only one has assured the supply,” said Vatsa.

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