A nationwide lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19 has seen economic activity come to a complete standstill. For manufacturing companies of different hues, this has meant no earnings over the last few weeks and idle capacity at their plants across the country.
The financial impact of the forced hiatus notwithstanding, companies ranging from automakers to textile manufacturers and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) players are heeding the nation’s call for support in these trying times and utilising their core understanding and capacity for manufacturing towards making essential healthcare equipment such as masks, sanitisers, and ventilators.
Auto majors such as Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL), and Mahindra and Mahindra have already started making ventilators, which are crucial for critically ill Coronavirus patients who need to be put on life support. At the government’s request, MSIL has tied up with AgVA Healthcare, a government-approved maker of ventilators, and is planning to ramp up volumes to 10,000 units per month.
MSIL will use its ecosystem of component suppliers to produce the required volume of components and use its expertise to upgrade production systems and ensure quality control. AgVa would be responsible for the core technology and performance of the ventilator thus produced.
“The strategy that we’ve adopted is to tie hands with a government-approved manufacturer of ventilators. The government order is for 10,000 units. AgVa healthcare is a very small company and doesn’t really have the means or the resources to scale up production. That is where we have the expertise,” R.C. Bhargava, chairman, MSIL, told Fortune India. “It is not going to be produced in our factories because we do not have the technology to make ventilators. That’s not our core area. It will be made in a temporary factory in Noida.”
In addition, two of MSIL’s joint venture companies—Krishna Maruti and Bharat Seats—will manufacture three-ply masks (for supply to the Haryana government and the central government), and protective clothing, respectively.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also trying to make multi-patient ventilators, wherein several patients can be supported by a single ventilator. "This innovation is expected to be available within a week. Around 5,000 ventilators will be produced in the first month and 10,000 subsequently. The DRDO has identified local alternatives to the supply of critical components,” the government said in a statement. Each indigenously-made ventilator is expected to cost ₹4 lakh. Nine companies to which the DRDO can transfer the design for final production have been identified and Mahindra and Mahindra has been entrusted with the responsibility of fabricating the required components.
Anand Mahindra, chairman of the automobiles-to-real estate and financial services Mahindra group, was one of the first industry leaders to offer his enterprise’s help in different ways. Apart from offering to convert holiday resorts run by Mahindra Holidays into isolation centres, he had also evinced his company’s interest in making ventilators.
On March 26, Mahindra tweeted: “So, so proud of our Kandivali and Igatpuri teams who confined themselves to the factories and without sleep, produced this in 48 hours.” He was referring to an interim device that can be used as a respirator that was developed in-house at Mahindra and Mahindra and was expected to cost below ₹7,500. The company was also simultaneously working with Indian makers of ICU (intensive care unit) ventilators, for more sophisticated machines that could cost between ₹5 lakh and ₹10 lakh.
Separately, Pawan Kumar Goenka, the managing director of Mahindra and Mahindra, also tweeted that it was making face shields, which can be used by medical professionals on the front line of combating the Covid-19 outbreak, with design sources from its partner Ford Motor Co. The company is making these shields at its Kandivali plant in Mumbai and is also open to sharing the design with anyone willing to make similar shields.
Alcoholic beverage maker Diageo (listed in India as United Spirits Ltd), the country’s largest, has also announced that it would be manufacturing around 300,000 litres of hand sanitisers at 15 of its manufacturing sites in India. It will also donate 500,000 litres of extra neutral alcohol (ENA) to the sanitiser industry to make two million units (of 250 ml each) of hand sanitiser.
“The demand for sanitisers is increasing by the hour, and we would like to use our manufacturing units to join in the effort to fill the demand-supply gap for sanitisers, so critical at this hour,” said Anand Kripalu, managing director and chief executive officer, Diageo India.
FMCG players like CavinKare and Dabur, which didn’t have hand sanitiser products in their portfolio, are also introducing them on a war footing to address the demand-supply gap in the market. ITC, for instance, has converted a perfume manufacturing facility in Himachal Pradesh to make sanitisers under the Savlon brand. “This initiative reinforces our efforts to enable enhanced production and supply of Savlon range of hygiene products in the market which is the need of the hour to help fight the virus and contain its spread,” said Sameer Satpathy, chief executive, personal care products, ITC.
Earlier, diversified conglomerates like Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) and the Tata group had also indicated their willingness to make products like face masks and ventilators. RIL said in a statement that it was enhancing production capacity to make 100,000 face masks per day and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Textile-maker Welspun India is running operations at its plant in Anjar, Gujarat, with a limited staff of 100 people to manufacture disinfectant wipes and surgical masks. These products are being distributed to essential services like the police, district and municipality officials, port workers, and NGO workers.
“Welspun Group has always been at the forefront when it comes to supporting government initiatives and society at large. From the business point of view, we have been making smart non-woven products and medium for diverse applications around safety clothing, filtration, personal hygiene and cosmetic segments,” B.K. Goenka, chairman of Welspun Group, said. “Hence, manufacturing face masks and disinfectant wipes for combating the crisis is a natural extension for us.”