IN VIEW of a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) for medicos at the frontline during the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), the Indian Railways has set up three dedicated PPE production units. The railways is also planning to stitch around 50,000 PPEs in the next 15 days.
The staff from Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai, Rail Coach Factory (RCF), Kapurthala, and Modern Coach Factory (MCF) in Raebareli have been asked to begin practising seamless stitching on whatever material available as they await approval for the sample PPE made by Jagadhari workshop in Northern Railway (NR) and RCF, Kapurthala.
The sample prepared on April 1 has to get approved by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Gwalior before mass production can begin. Railway officials are awaiting clearances, as material used for PPE should not have pores larger than 0.3 microns as the virus causing COVID-19, which is one micron in size, can easily pass through other material and stitching holes.
At Jagadhari workshop, stitching pores are covered with tapes while RCF has used glue gun to cover stitching pores. Both units have used material approved by the textile ministry for PPE production.
The decision comes after various zonal railways began preparing PPEs based on locally available material in various shapes and forms. Some others had asked for detailed guidelines from the board and even advised against venturing into local production, considering that it required extreme care.
“Not only the stitching has to be seamless but it also requires special tape and taping machines, which are being procured,” said a senior official from the Western Railway.
While the staff involved in manufacturing PPE has also been asked to wear PPE to avoid cross-contamination. The material will also be procured through the stores department of the railways, which has tied up with the textile ministry to source material from companies in India.
Apart from production units, the Railway Board is looking at starting production in maintenance workshops at every zonal railway. The PPEs include face shield, masks, triple-layer medical mask, N95 respiratory mask, gloves, coveralls, shoe and head covers.
While the exact requirement of PPEs required is yet to be ascertained, a senior official said the government was looking at acquiring at least 10 crore PPEs using in-house production and procurement. Railways has tied up with Hindustan Lifecare Limited (HLL), a PSU of textile ministry, headed by K B George to provide close to 50,000 PPEs.
“One division has put its need at 4,000 PPEs for just two months considering that they are single use,” added another railway official.
The railways has started off with manufacturing sanitisers and face mask for its field staff and contractual workers and later developed isolation wards and is also looking at converting trains into mobile testing labs, which can go to remote places to test people. The three production units have also been tasked with manufacturing components and assembly of ventilators and working on making 5,000 isolation and quarantine coaches available in the next few days.
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