Following a call from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in March for industry to help increase face mask production by 40%, the Rotherham-based printing business decided to diversify its manufacturing capabilities to help with the response to Covid-19.
Over the past two months, Bluetree Group has worked tirelessly to convert its new 45,000 square foot facility, originally acquired for expanding its printing operations, into a surgical face mask factory. This facility will be capable of producing 1.4 million masks per week, with the potential of expanding capacity to 20 million per week by September. The company has purchased the necessary machinery from Diecut Global, its longstanding supplier.
Not only has the Rotherham based business had to convert its operation, to ensure it meets all the necessary health and safety guidelines, it has also been working around the clock to finalise the complex regulations for certification. This has been especially important for the meltblown material, which is the filter layer within the mask.
Due to the global pandemic, this has been in high demand with many countries taking control of their domestic supplies. As a result, Bluetree Group is investing to produce meltblown in house ensuring that from the summer the final product will be produced using materials all manufactured in the UK. This is believed to be the first supply chain entirely domestically sourced.
The business will be producing type IIR-certified surgical masks, one of the most commonly used types in UK healthcare, and will be launching them under the product name OBISK. Type IIR masks have a bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) of 98% and are splash resistant to protect users from bodily fluids including blood. Not all masks on the market provide bacterial filtration, so Bluetree Group has made sure its masks are medical grade and capable of protecting frontline workers from harmful bacteria.
The final stage of production is certification, where the products must be sent to a lab to undergo extensive testing. There are a limited number of companies in the UK able to carry out such work and current demand is understandably high; however Bluetree Group expects this final stage to be completed in the coming weeks.
Production of the face masks will begin mid-June, once these stringent tests and final certification of the product is complete. The business hopes to supply the NHS and is currently in the application process with the government.
For those customers requiring over 5,000 masks per month, such as healthcare providers, the company will fulfil such orders via long term contracts with its direct sales team. Alternatively, consumers and smaller businesses such as dentists, clinics etc will be able to set up a subscription service via bluetreemaskbox.co.uk. Bluetree Group will also be donating a year’s supply of face masks to Bluebell Wood, a local hospice.
Adam Carnell, managing director at Bluetree Group, said: “We are in a fortunate position where our existing setup lends itself well to mask production, so when it became apparent that help was needed, we immediately began planning what we could do.
“The team has worked hard over the last eight weeks to work through the understandably complex regulations around producing medical products; building a clean room production facility and securing some of the most sought-after materials needed to make the masks.”
“We are still operating our business-as-usual product lines, dedicating a separate task force to this project, but aim to make mask production a sustainable line of business for the foreseeable future to help protect the nation.”
Steve Waterhouse, managing director at Diecut Global, said: “In a short time frame our Preston-based business has diversified, sourced and supplied.”
“We have done this without any government support or funding to step up in a national emergency, securing both our companies’ workforces to bring manufacturing back to the UK.”
“At a time where all anybody has spoken about is bringing control back to the UK, we have done this, so we are not reliant on any other countries and are also helping our economy bounce back.”
Bluetree Group has been in manufacturing for thirty years and is well established, employing over 350 staff including many highly skilled machine operators.