With the ongoing pandemic, many firms are adapting to survive. Just two months back, we wrote about how Zouk decided to evolve with the times and turn their empty dance floor into a pop-up restaurant named Capital Kitchen. Without revenue, one is bound to doom.
AVS Technologies is another company in Singapore that’s adjusting to the changes amid the pandemic. They used to distribute printing equipment and provide printing services. But now, they are producing masks from their office in Ubi.
Employees assigned different job roles
Ms Cheang Meng Ching, a desktop publisher with AVS Technologies, has also seen a huge shift in her key responsibilities. She used to arrange and check layouts for artworks, corporate banners, and signages before sending them for printing during the pre-COVID-19 days.
Since May, keeping an eye on three production lines that can each produce 4,000 surgical masks an hour is now part of her job scope in quality-control documentation.
“It’s (a) challenge because I didn’t know anything about ISO (standards) before this,” she said.
Other employees were also assigned very different job roles including running the machines, checking the masks produced, and packing.
Retraining and upskilling for employees
Image Credits: CNA
“We trained everyone – all 30 of them in accounting, graphic design, marketing, sales and administration – to go into mask production,” said AVS Technologies’ general manager Kelvin Mun.
“When we started, it was quite tough and there were days when we had to activate almost everyone,” he recalled. “But now, we are able to keep the team lean so at any one time, it’s a variation of four to 10 people from the different teams.”
Mr Mun who has been handling customer service adds, “This is brand new to us so the best way to learn, I think, is to get feedback from our customers.”
A rise in demand for masks led to the mask production lines
Mr Mun thought back about the difficulty of getting hold of surgical masks earlier this year. They were out of stock at retail stores and export controls on medical supplies began overseas.
“All of us were having problems getting masks. There was a real need here,” he said.
Tapping on Mr Mun’s father’s company, Aztech Group, they were able to obtain all the equipment for mask manufacturing.
S$1 million invested to kickstart its mask production
Image Credits: CNA
The company paid quite a high price to secure the materials needed for mask production.
This is especially so for the costs of the melt-blown polypropylene – the non-woven polymer fabric that forms the filter in face masks. Due to the rise in global demand, prices had increased. Mr Mun said the company had likely bought it at up to 10 times higher than before the pandemic.
“It’s like a stock market and the prices just kept going up in March, April and hit the peak in May. We had to go in to purchase the materials quickly, which means we purchased them at the peak (prices),” he mentioned.
A learning process for all
It wasn’t smooth-sailing for the company at the start. Mr Mun recalled some batches that were not welded properly with ear loops falling off easily.
“There were many mechanical parts in play (and) new technologies like ultrasonic welding, that we never used before. (The masks) seemed ok when we tested them but that was because we were pulling about 10 at a time, instead of one at a time. We realised it too late and (they) were already delivered to the customers,” he stated.
About 4,000 pieces were exchanged later on and the company started refining its checking process.
“Apart from those conducting the checks before packing, the person running the machine must also be very sharp to identify the problems,” he said. “The pressure can be quite high.”
Image Credits: WellM
WellM is the brand to note. It has the European Union approval (CE mark) and the public can view the masks’ test reports on its website.
If you’re wondering, AVS Technologies has a licence from the Health Sciences Authority. “We spent time and effort on all these tests to make sure that people buying know that our masks are safe,” said Mr Mun. “We are not making cheap products and trying to make money out of this pandemic.”
According to Mr Mun, they have received positive feedback regarding their masks. Some customers have written back to inform them that their kids loved the masks and they were comfortable to wear.
“Reviews like these make us happy and accomplished,” he said.
Diversifying is key
“The Government has made it very clear that… businesses need to really think about diversifying.”
With the company’s knowledge of the production of medical equipment, they are hoping it could complement its more advanced capabilities in printing.
“Now that we know the requirements of making medical equipment, we are trying to link what we have learnt back to our expertise in printing, which consists of 3D printing and milling engineering… and see if we can explore any opportunities in medical manufacturing,” said Mr Mun.
As you rub on the magical lamp, a genie appears. If the genie were to grant you three wishes, what would they be? Will you ask for the most expensive COVID-19 mask in the world? That was the request that Jewelry Designer Isaac Levy fulfilled – with or without a magical lamp. He works in the Israeli jewelry house called Yvel.
He was commissioned to grant three requests: that the mask will comply with the FDA/European safety standards, will be ready by the end of 2020, and will be the most expensive COVID-19 mask in the world. The last requirement was the easiest to fulfill, according to Mr. Levy.
Mr. Levy said that the item was requested by a Chinese billionaire living in the United States of America. Thus, it comes with a price tag of US$1.5 million or S$2 million. Saving face plays an essential part in the Chinese Culture, and a bejeweled mask by Yvel takes this to another level!
This expensive mask may be glamorous, but some may question its practicality. You see, it is expected to weigh about 270 grams or over half a pound. The mask consists of 250 grams of 18-carat white gold, which is embellished with more than 3,600 natural black and white diamonds. This equates to a total weight of 210 carats.
Its physical appearance aside, the mask is set to meet the strict health standards with the current pandemic in mind. Mr. Levy made sure that the mask included an N99 filter. The mask features a hole in one of its gold plates for the filter to sit. In other words, the mask will filter out at least 99% of airborne particles.
The labor-intensive process for this luxurious piece as well as its other requirements entails that this project will not only benefit one man. The Jewelry House Yvel takes pride in hiring predominantly immigrant employees and projects such as this will help them thrive during these tough times.
Mr. Levy went on and said:
“It is the most expensive mask in the world. If there will be another company that will create such a mask and will challenge us, I am sure that we’re going to find another customer to buy a more expensive mask.”
This extravagant mask comes at a time when luxury brands and designers such as Off-White and Emilia Wickstead are offering fashionable face coverings. Moreover, luxury group LVMH (which oversees Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Christian Dior) assisted in the production of hand sanitizers amidst the global shortages. They converted three fragrance factories for this purpose.
Whatever happens in the years to come, this mask will serve as a hefty memento of the life-changing pandemic.