North-East manufacturers responding to Government calls to produce vital PPE are being urged to ensure their products meet the required specifications before altering their operations.
The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing Project (SAM), a collaboration between European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and University of Sunderland, has been working closely with regional commissioners to ensure the standard of PPE being produced by the region’s manufacturers matches the stringent regulations outlined by the UK Government.
A UK-wide plan was unveiled by ministers last month to ensure critical PPE was being delivered to those on the frontline, as well as information on how it planned to work with industry to produce items in short supply such as gowns, glasses, masks, aprons and hand hygiene products.
Thousands of manufacturers have since joined the effort to produce PPE however the team at SAM, who are actively working with businesses to identify areas of the region that are in critical short supply, are urging firms to be aware of the stringent specifications they are required to meet before investing in the materials and equipment required to alter their operations.
Ken Teears, project manager at SAM, said: “The response from UK manufacturers to the fight against the Coronavirus has been absolutely outstanding. You’d have to go back to the wartime era to pinpoint the last time the sector faced such disruption – and yet the resilience of our manufacturers has continued to shine through.
“Businesses ranging from one man bands through to globally-renowned brands such as Nissan, Barbour and BAE have all responded to the Government’s call to produce PPE however we can’t stress how important it is that manufacturing businesses – especially SMEs – ensure the products they produce adhere to the specifications outlined by the British Standards Institution and follow UK Government relaxed PPE legislation.
“Investing in the equipment and staff to produce PPE can require significant capital – especially for smaller businesses – and while many of the goods are saleable, businesses must be wary of the economic and legal pitfalls they risk falling into should their items not be signed off by bodies such as the NHS and the BSI.”
The SAM Project was initially set up to support North East (LEP) SME manufacturers to explore and introduce new technology to improve their products or processes however – similarly to most businesses it serves – it has been forced to pivot and adjust its offering due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two new funds providing up to £10,000 matched-funding to those adapting due to the Coronavirus or producing PPE equipment have since been launched to reflect this change in focus, as well as a separate support initiative to ensure those looking to produce PPE receive the support they need to do so.
Teears added: “We’ve been working very closely with frontline healthcare commissioners across the region to ensure that the PPE being produced not only meets the required specification but also to ensure it meets demand.
“A lot of companies for example have been quick to produce face shields. The majority of manufacturers and makers (including schools, colleges and one person operations) are gifting what they make to frontline healthcare, with far fewer having orders for Face Shield products from commissioners. There is a vast array of PPE in high demand so it is essential that efforts are focussed on PPE products the commissioners need to keep frontline healthcare workers safe.
“We must therefore stress that companies should do their due diligence before committing to manufacture, unless they are intending to do so philanthropically and the production cost is not an issue. Commissioners do not want manufacturers getting into difficulties trying to do the right thing, hoping orders will come, where their product isn’t in short supply but other products are being sought to meet demand.
“This is where the support by SAM can really help. By working with both manufacturers and commissioners, we can better understand which items of PPE are in most short-supply, the specifications that must be met and how manufacturers can ensure their products get in front of the right people.
“Not only does this ensure those on the front-line have the right PPE to continue saving lives, but it also ensures the companies that are putting their businesses on the line to support the effort do so with minimal risk.”
The team at SAM are also working with companies to help establish sustainable supply chains for the future supply of PPE post-coronavirus.
“While it’s critical that we produce the PPE required to help fight COVID-19 in real-time, we must also remember that the real issue here is matching manufacturing capability with short and medium term demand profiling going forward, so manufacturers can gear up to legally make the right standard of PPE, at the right volume, at the right time, for the right price,” Teears added.
“Only by creating sustainable supply chains and by working collaboratively with industry and healthcare commissioners can we ensure that those on the front-line are protected well into the future, but we must work together to achieve this, which is why we’re urging any manufacturing SME joining the effort to contact SAM and tap into the free support on offer.”
To find out more about SAM, visit www.samprojectuos.co.uk