Queensland company OZ Health Plus will establish Australia’s first manufacturing plant for producing critical fine plastic materials used in most protective face masks.
OZ Health Plus has purchased a plant of the Swiss-based technology company Oerlikon to establish a Queensland-based production plant for spunbonded fabrics and meltblown nonwovens. These fabrics are essential for Australia’s face mask manufacturers, who currently produce about 500 million medical and industrial masks per year. However, the fabrics have to be imported from overseas, and access to these materials has been severely disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oerlikon’s German-based business unit, Oerlikon Nonwoven has now executed legal and commercial arrangements to supply specialized machinery which can manufacture nonwoven materials locally. The same machinery is used to produce almost all face masks materials manufactured in Europe. The world-leading Oerlikon Nonwoven meltblown plant will commence operation in April next year, with a second stage planned for late 2021.
The Oerlikon Nonwoven plant can produce meltblown fabrics for 500 million masks per year, along with other medical and non-medical grade products, filtration products, sanitary items, antiseptic wipes and more.
Rainer Straub, Head of Oerlikon Nonwoven, says, “We are very proud that we can now for the first time supply our Oerlikon Nonwoven meltblown technology to Australia. Due to the short delivery time, we hope to make our contribution to the Australian population and their safe supply of high-quality protective masks as soon as possible.”
OZ Health Plus Director Darren Fooks says, “Australia has access to raw polypropylene feedstock, but lacks the plant to convert that raw material to specialized spunbonded and meltblown fabrics. These fabrics are essential for local mask manufacturing. The Australian-based Oerlikon Nonwoven plant will fill the production chain gap for Australia by producing the fabrics we need for mask production and many other products – it will reduce Australia’s protective mask supply chain from thousands of kilometers to tens of kilometers.”
“Our decision in favor of Oerlikon Nonwoven was a given once we had analyzed the material samples. It was a matter of course for us that the Business Unit of the Oerlikon Manmade Fibers segment could supply high-quality machines and systems,” added Fooks.
The new OZ Health Plus facilities will take up 15,000 square meters of manufacturing space, and will employ 100 full-time roles once the second stage of the project is complete. OZ Health Plus continues to work with both Queensland and Federal Government stakeholders, and values their support in bringing this vital capability to Queensland.
Oerlikon Nonwoven’s meltblown technology can also be used to produce nonwovens for protective masks, and is recognized in the market as the technically most efficient method of producing high-separation filter media from plastic fibers. Most of the protective mask capacities available in Europe to date are produced on Oerlikon Nonwoven equipment.