Chinese companies convert production lines to support epidemic prevention

By Li Jie, People’s Daily Overseas Edition
Major manufacturing enterprises in China are now engaged in cross-industry production to cope with the current shortage of medical supplies such as masks, protective suits and disinfectants amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Enterprises from petrochemical engineering, automobile and mechanical manufacturing industries established production lines of masks from scratch in just 5 days. Some products were even developed in just 55 hours.
Such quick transition, R&D and production come from the undefeatable spirit of the Chinese enterprises at the special moment, and reflect the country’s complete manufacturing system, high level of supporting mechanism of industries, as well as the advanced skills of the Chinese workers.
On Feb. 6, China’s largest oil refine China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec), and its e-commerce platform Epec posted message on social media to seek partners for mask production. The message received wide attention and the partners were found in just 3 hours.
Sinopec has reached agreement to cooperate with 11 mask production lines by noon of Feb. 7, and facilities are to be installed. It is estimated that 600,000 masks will roll off the new production lines on Feb. 29 and production of more than one million per day will be realized on March 10.
The production facilities of many enterprises, such as automobile manufacturers, are way different from those for medical supplies, but these enterprises completed great transition.
For many manufacturers, to convert production lines is to reinforce their current facilities, such as reforming workshops, and making or purchasing new equipment. Besides, they have also trained staff, applied for relevant production qualifications, and learned necessary manufacturing techniques and process.
Many of the enterprises released news of production conversion in recent days, but actually they had prepared for this nearly a month ago.
On Feb. 7, Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd (GAC Group) sent engineers from its auto part technology center to Dongguan, southern China’s Guangdong province to study relevant techniques and manufacturing process of mask production equipment. The engineers finished the 2-week training in just a couple of days, and assembled the first set of mask production equipment on Feb. 10.
It is learned that GAC Group plans to produce 30 to 50 sets of such equipment by cooperating with its suppliers. Part of the equipment will be employed by the group itself for mask production, while the rest will be offered to other enterprises in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.
Other carmakers, including BYD and SAIC-GM-Wuling also started producing masks by building new production lines or cooperating with their suppliers. BYD is expected to make 5 million pieces of masks per day in late February.
In major epidemic-hit areas, disposable protective suits are still in short supply. A large number of newly produced protective suits were not able to be sent to the frontline because they must go through 1 to 2 weeks’ of sterilization before being put into use.
Now, the use of mass irradiation sterilization might largely shorten the process.
On Feb. 12, the first batch of over 10,000 disposable protective suits finished irradiation sterilization at a radiation technology company in Beijing under China National Nuclear Corporation. It only took 6 hours for the entire process, from unloading to departure. Such sterilization method has largely reduced the time consumed compared with ethylene oxide sterilization.
The radiation technology company has opened a green channel for epidemic prevention and control materials. The production line is able to sterilize around 100,000 protective suits on a daily basis, an executive of the company introduced.
Ou Xiaoli, director of the Department of Social Development, National Development and Reform Commission, noted that the resumption of production will drive the demand for protective materials, and such materials, especially masks, are still seeing insufficient supply.
The country will gradually relieve the situation through resumption of work, as well as capacity recovery and expansion, and encourage related enterprises to acquire relevant qualifications, promote technological transformation and convert production as early as possible.

An employee of automaker SAIC-GM-Wuling tunes a mask-producing facility. The first mask-producing facility of the company was developed in only 76 hours. Photo from official Weibo page of SAIC-GM-Wuling

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