Coronavirus Morningfuture
Inspiring Best Practice 4 May May 2020 0630 4 May 2020

Face masks, sanitiser gel and ventilators – those Italian factories switching their production

From haute couture to cosmetics, from spirits distillers to automotive – the list of companies switching their production facilities in response to the coronavirus emergency continues to grow

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Face masks, ventilators, face shields and sanitiser gels. Right across Italy more and more companies are answering the call to help beat coronavirus by switching a part or all of their production to manufacture much-needed personal protective equipment and medical devices.

Textile manufacturers were the first to step in to help meet the growing demand for face masks and overalls. The sector’s business association, Confindustria Moda, started up a campaign asking for offers to supply non-woven fabrics. Names like Armani, Gucci, Prada and H&M, as well as a host of smaller suppliers in the industry, form a growing list of brands who’ve decided to set aside fashion to focus their efforts on Italy’s health crisis.

Giorgio Armani announced that that all the fashion house’s production facilities in Italy would switch to making disposable smocks for health workers. On the request of the Tuscan regional administration, the Prada group kicked off the production of 80,000 smocks and 110,000 face masks for the region’s health workers. Hosiery and lingerie brand Calzedonia has also switched production in a number of its plants.

In the Apulian city of Bari, the chancellor of the polytechnic, Francesco Cupertino, is coordinating a working group composed of professors and researchers who are liaising with those local companies interested in switching a part of their production capacity. Over ten days, more than 165 companies asked for the Polytechnic’s support to manufacture face masks, overalls, smocks, face shields and leggings. Most of them are small producers in the textiles, clothing manufacture or plastics processing industries.

The cosmetics industry is also playing its part by producing disinfectants. The Parma-based cosmetics group, Davines, started up production of hand sanitiser gel. The French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH will use its French perfume brand facilities (Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy) to produce gels.

Companies in the spirit distilling sector have offered to provide the alcohol needed to produce disinfectants. Their business association, Assodistil, which brings together around 60 companies producing about 95% of Italy’s total production of ethanol, announced that many companies are switching to the production of the surgical spirit that goes into making gels.

The Italian government’s ‘Cura Italia’ Decree provides for the payment of incentives to those companies willing to switch production

Bologna-based engineering firm SIARE Engineering is the country’s only producer of ventilators. The Italian government has ordered 500 a month for four months. This is why the company has stopped fulfilling export orders so that it can focus on the needs of its home market. The 35-strong team of employees is being flanked by 25 specialists from the army. A further five companies in southern Italy manufacturing machine and electro-mechanical components have offered to help SIARE’s production efforts. Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler have also offered a hand by opening up their production facilities to assist in the production of components and the assembly of ventilators.

Innovative companies have also joined the action, especially 3D printing specialists. One particular case caught the world’s attention: the conversion of Decathlon snorkelling masks into ventilator masks. By applying a 3D-printed valve, the snorkelling mask was transformed into an emergency breathing mask for use in sub-intensive care units. The idea was thanks to the joint efforts of the former head of Brescia’s Gardone Valtrompia hospital, Renato Favero, and his fellow townsman Cristian Fracassi, founder of Italian startup Isinnova. Meanwhile, in the city of Bari a platform has been set up to make an open source file freely available for the low-cost printing of face masks at home.

With its ‘Cura Italia’ Decree the Italian government provides for the payment of incentives to those companies willing to switch production. The country’s development agency, Invitalia, is responsible for granting and managing the 50 million euro set aside for “those companies ready to expand or convert their production to manufacture ventilators, face masks, goggles, smocks and overalls for health workers.” The planned investments can range between 200,000 and 2 million euro. Financing is provided in the form of interest-free subsidized loans covering 75% of the planned expenditure and to be repaid over seven years. The maximum incentive payable is 800,000 euro. A 60% advance payment can be provided without guarantee upon acceptance of the company’s application to the scheme. The agency has explained that all red tape will be simpler and faster than the normal procedure. At the moment though, the only hurdle does seem to be the bureaucracy.

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