Last year, Honeywell and Strata Manufacturing (Strata), the advanced manufacturing facility wholly owned by Mubadala Investment Company PJSC (Mubadala), entered a partnership to produce made in the UAE N95 masks.
In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, Roman Poludnev, General Manager of Safety and Productivity Solutions Middle East, Russia, Turkey and Africa, Honeywell, said that the partnership helped fulfil the rapid spike in demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) caused due to the pandemic. While hospitals had certain PPE reserves, due to the lack of clarity and guidance on use, PPE consumption, especially among healthcare workers, reportedly increased up to 17 times compared to usual consumption. Also, due to challenges created by the pause in airline operations, even those who were able to produce PPE were not able to ship them out.
“Honeywell has always had a local strategy of fulfilment,” said Poludnev. “We have been in the Middle East for over 60 years. Because of the nature of our engagement with customers, we always prefer to serve them from existing locations. For PPE and masks, we have several factories worldwide but did not have one at the start of the pandemic in the Middle East. So, due to the surge in demand, logistical challenges, and restrictions, we collaborated with Strata to build this facility.”
He highlighted that the facility, located in Al Ain, was built in record time – from the decision to build it to production to release took just five weeks. Moreover, the facility can produce more than 90,000 masks per day.
From an efficiency perspective, the locally produced N95 and FFP2 masks go a long way in protecting healthcare workers from contracting the virus. The masks can reportedly filter 95 per cent of large and small solid and liquid particles. Masks that are not certified to the N95 standard may not provide this level of protection against the inhalation of smaller airborne particles. These N95 masks also provide a leak-tight seal that helps minimise toxic particles from entering the mask and are designed to provide comfort and protection. Unlike medical or surgical masks that provide a loose fit, these masks offer a proper fit.
When asked about how quality standards are maintained, Poludnev said that the facility uses the same technology and machinery part of Honeywell’s blueprint globally. “However, during the pandemic, sourcing raw materials such as polypropylene became a challenge. That’s where Strata stepped in and helped us solve the problem locally. We also went through thorough checks with our global laboratories to ensure that it meets the required standards. What we produce in UAE is absolutely identical to the masks we produce around the world,” he emphasised.
Compared to last year, the situation has stabilised, and logistics has significantly improved, but there are still some challenges to be addressed, the General Manager stressed. For example, at the start of the pandemic, when there was an acute shortage of N95 and FFP2 masks, many sub-standard and counterfeit masks made their way into the market and continue to be in circulation. “These masks offer no protection. However, Honeywell and Strata have addressed this issue by introducing an application that allows scanning a barcode on the mask packaging and by downloading it users can validate whether the mask is original or not,” he added.
A company statement highlighted that before the opening of this mask operation, N95 masks were typically imported to the UAE. Therefore, the partnership has also transformed the UAE into an international exporter of N95 masks to help respond to the spread of COVID-19 around the world.
While COVID-19 put the spotlight on critical worker safety, the issue of productivity also became a concern. Poludnev shared that with the collaboration between Honeywell’s Auto Identification business and the Nursecall system, the company developed several tools for nurse communication. The primary purpose of these is to remove unnecessary actions taken by the nurse. For instance, instead of constantly checking up on the patient face to face, the tool allows the nurse to speak to the patient, even if they are at home. The solution connects a patient at home to the doctor or nurse in the hospital with the help of hardware and software solutions.
The company’s solutions have also helped in the manual removal of patient admission by replacing it with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanners at hospital sites. Honeywell has provided several hospitals in the UAE with these scanners to scan Emirates ID and link it to the healthcare database at the hospital without any manual paperwork. Furthermore, the company has developed a mobile Nursecall system that doesn’t require infrastructure within the hospital and automates data entry into hospital information systems.
One of the other most important lessons learned from the pandemic, said Poludnev, was that the education of customers is a crucial area. In the coming months, he said the company is aiming to engage with more healthcare partners, who will make customers more aware of their tools and solutions that exist in the market. Also, the firm will continue to expand locally through different partnerships.
He concluded: “We will continue working with experts in the healthcare industry and apply our software analytics tools and hardware to offer solutions that are targeted towards productivity improvements of healthcare workers, as well as their safety.”