How hard it could be is what we thought on march 26th when Jaap Stelwagen and myself came up with the idea to get two machines from China to Arnhem with the goal of locally producing face masks. Shortly after, the Mondmaskerfabriek was born and half a year later, we have 27 knowledgeable production employees in our team. The majority of those employees have a refugee background. We have two regular suppliers for the needed meltblown-materials and thanks to the QING technicians we have been able to adjust our machines (with the nicknames A, B, C, and D) to the European standards. The certification process has been done by various laboratories: Machine A by Eurofins, Machine C, and D by Hygcen. Machine B was already certified in an earlier stage by Nutrilab, a Dutch lab that as of yet, had not been accredited. For this reason, we arranged a foreign lab to do the certification.
As of now, we are almost through all the steps of the certification process but because the stakes are high we set the bar high. We set up our own quality control system and incidentally, we find, what we call a small microbiological outlier. In plain English: in each batch of 100.000 face masks, we sometimes find a deviation. It is not much but those deviations do not meet the standards. We do self-certification and can therefore not enter the market as a certified factory.
Where do these incidental deviations come from? The Mondmaskerfabriek was able to quickly start with the amazing support of Scalabor by means of helping to find a location and setting up that location. The factory is currently located in an old warehouse in Arnhem and right from the start we thought; are we ever going to get this place clean? Meanwhile, we found out that our intuition was right, it is the location that is the cause for the outliers. Therefore, we are moving to a new location this fall where we can create a so-called white room. In this space, we can purify the air, keep the temperature cool en are the walls, and the floors lined with an antibacterial layer.
Currently, we have more than a million face masks in storage and can continue our production on a stable level in the old location. We had external party research on whether sterilization with gamma radiation would make the masks fit for sale on the market. Gamma radiation is often used both for food production as for the medical sector. We currently know that we only need low levels of radiation and so far all the bacteria and fungi were killed in the process. One downside of the radiation is that the face masks can lose a part of their effectiveness.
Today we got the results of the Belgium research instituut Centexbel regarding the research of the filterability and with 0,9 percent we, unfortunately, did not pass the test. This can be seen as bad news but we rather see it as being close! Moreover, we still have the possibility to adjust the gamma radiation to a lower level with which we will reach the allowed minimum level. Research for the filterability with that level has already started and we will get results within …. weeks?
Back to our upcoming move: we have a shortlist with locations and have started with the negotiations. We expect to finish these negotiations in the near future and will then still have 1,5 months to make the space ready for production. In the new location, we will work with new 3rd generation machines. We will then have a total of 6 machines and enough production capacity to supply the constant demand for medical tools.
A lot is happening with regards to the Mondmaskerfabriek and not all that we want is immediately successful. How difficult can it be is what Japp Stelwagen and myself thought half a year ago and the answer is; sometimes pretty difficult. Experiencing setbacks are part of the entrepreneurial process but we are not the ones who think negatively. We want to get to action! I believe in our product and am proud of our employees. Moving courageously forward and when there is news I will be sure to share it with all of you.