Floating factories instead of hanging garments – ITJ correspondent Manik Mehta reports from New York on new ideas for PPE production and transport.
Strong demand for protective masks recently has given rise to unconventional modes of production and transport. An innovative Turkish enterprise purchased maritime vessels and refashioned them into factories. The move simultaneously also enables the firm to avoid the problem of rapidly rising cargo spot rates. The floating factories double as high sea freighters and serve important markets in the USA, where some west coast ports are currently experiencing high levels of import congestion.
Higher productivity, better protection
Turkey has a long tradition as an important textiles supplier. The Turkish trader A & S Investment Holding has reacted to the global business potential and acquired three ships for USD 88.9 million. The ro-ro units were converted into vessels suitable for the mass production of face masks in the Tuzla shipyard, east of Istanbul, which specialises in retrofitting ships.
The holding established a new company, called Global Mask Medikal, in just four weeks. Ukur Akkuz, the chairman of the A & S Investment Holding’s board, summarised the development by saying that “production on a ship is very advantageous for us. […] The ships were laid up on account of the pandemic, so were sold for reasonable amounts. If you install 100 machines on a ship, then your productivity immediately soars enormously. […] It’s higher than in a factory on land. We save time and produce the masks in sterile rooms.”
Importers soon contracted the new firm to produce large volumes of masks. “Demand from the USA was particularly high. Buyers there placed orders for approximately 100–150 million masks,” according to Akkuz, who added that there remains a great need for face masks in the USA, despite rising imports.
Time is always of the essence
Sometimes the firm struggled to fulfil the rather heavy demand, as producing 100 million masks can take up to two weeks. Once they’re made there’s a four-week journey to get them to the USA. The firm considered establishing a factory in the USA itself, but it proved unrealistic to hope to finish it in six months, Akkuz said.
“Time is the most important factor when you’re fighting a pandemic. That’s how we got the idea of producing the masks during the crossing.” The company’s plan sees it transporting 500 million face masks and 10 million sets of protective clothing to North and South America per ship. Its export goal at the end of 2020 stood at approximately USD 500 million.
“If everything goes according to plan, then we’ll look at further options to acquire three more vessels. We’ll deploy those in the production and transport of equipment to African countries, via Morocco, as well as to the Gulf region, via Qatar. We’ll supply Russia as well as the Scandinavian markets through St Petersburg,” Akkuz elaborated. This ‘project for humanity,’ as Akkuz calls his activities, will donate 10% of the products manufactured on every ship to charities.