The face mask challenge – Australia still lacks sovereign manufacturing capability

Politicians state and federal have been revelling in photo opportunities with that innovative coterie of manufacturers who have risen to the challenge of making personal protective gear (PPE) and medical ventilators that were formally imported.

The latest was SA Premier Steven Marshall who visited the Detmold facility in Adelaide with Stephen Wade MLC (pictured), a company that is now ramping up production of medical face masks towards a target of 145 million masks.

While many companies have made superhuman efforts such as Detmold, we need only look a little deeper to see that the medical supply chain fix is only halfway there.

Firstly do the three domestic mask manufacturers in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have surety that health services won’t revert to their old ways and start buying vital equipment from low-cost countries?

Even more fundamental is the question of the mask supply chain – we might make the final masks, but when Covid-19 hit we had a hell of a job making the machines that make the masks.

The Commonwealth actually financed one company to replicate a decades-old machine design when far faster machines, and designs, were available overseas.

A country has got to be able to make the machines that make the machines and Australia’s machine tool industry has been decimated in recent decades.

Only a few hardy suppliers exist that make their own-designed machines.

Then there is the raw materials, and in the case of masks I am told we make the final product but import the nose wire, ear loop elastic, non woven polypropylene and melt blow fabric.

In the very basic necessity of face masks, Australia still lacks true sovereign manufacturing capability.

Picture: Steven Marshall

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