The virus, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19, has spread to at least 177 countries and territories on six continents, infecting more than 703,185 people and killing more than 33,434 people (as at March 30, 2020). People are panicking, and we're facing a worldwide supply shortage of surgical masks.
Currently, Taiwanese adults are allowed to buy three face masks and five children's masks every seven days. How has Taiwan, a close neighbor of China, managed the crisis so gracefully?
The answer is the power of the mask of Taiwan's national team.
90 percent of masks are imported into Taiwan. Yet as the epidemic causes a huge increase in mask demand while global supplies are shrinking, Taiwan is left with no choice but to produce masks domestically. At the end of January, the Cabinet also approved a proposal to build 60 assembly lines to produce 6 million surgical masks a day, with plans to increase daily production to 10 million.
How Taiwan faces the supply bottleneck
However, rapidly increasing mask production will not be easy, as Taiwan's local mask industry is not very profitable and most manufacturers relocated elsewhere in the world more than 20 years ago. Now, China is one of the world's top producers of medical masks and other protective gear.
Taiwan's remaining mask production equipment manufacturers is very small in size with limited staff and it will take four to six months to build 60 lines. Overall, it is extremely a challenge for mask production equipment manufacturers to fulfill the government goal.
Nevertheless, time is ticking for the urgent demand for 60 production lines. We have to work faster than the virus. On February 6, Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders’ Association (TMBA) encouraged the members to volunteer and help the country. The first troop of the "national team" was set up in just five days. Many companies joined on February 21 to support Taiwan's mask equipment manufacturers.
Around 140 people from 29 enterprises, from upstream to downstream, from the machine tool industry and 3 industrial Institutes joined the national team, including managers, factory directors and senior technicians, with an average of 10 years of experience in the industry.
60 production lines in only 25 days
The machine tool manufacturers input its 30-40 years of production experience to help the mask production equipment manufacturers to shorten their production time. First, they dismantle the machine, classify the machine parts, and set the standard SOP of the mask equipment production line assemble work flow. They then developed modular production lines and assigned different machine tool companies to assist in a different operating cell. Everyone can therefore focus on their part and optimize their assemble efficiency
Such efforts greatly shortened the production time. The 60 production lines, which normally take four to six months to complete, were set up in 25 days - before the scheduled one-month deadline. With these 60 lines, the number of masks produced in Taiwan is expected to reach at least 10 million daily production by mid-March.
The result of hard work, professional industrial skill and solidarity
The teamwork of private firms, business associations and the government and its related institutes had made the impossible mission possible.
Even more valuable is that these companies, which have spent decades competing against each other, are collaborating to achieve one goal that might not be profitable at all.
Mr. Winston Tai, President of Taiwan Takisawa Ltd, Co. , also the deputy of the national team's onsite director, mentioned the motivation as to why he devoted so many technical assistants, used his own company’s supplier chain to help part manufacturing, assigned more than 10 senior human resources to work and worked to communicate the onsite assignment to different companies. It's because he personally suffered the panic of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. He was suspected of being infected and remained in hospital for nine days. " I was suffering a lot of stress and panic back then, so I could really relate to the epidemic this time round. I would like to use my industry, skills and knowledge to assist the government."
"Panic is worse than the virus itself! At first, we only wanted to join the mask team to stabilize the public panic. With unity and effort, we have succeeded, and I am very pleased that our staff have been well trained so that they can continue to be distributed during this crisis. They told me they would feel exhausted if they spent 100 percent of their energy working at SEYI. Working in the mask team, however, required 200 percent of their energy yet rather than feeling tired, they are happy and honored," revealed by Claire Kuo, Chairman & CEO, Shieh Yih Machinery Industry Co., Ltd (SEYI)