India is expected to emerge as one of the main exporters of masks with the habit of its wearing catching up on people worldwide in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Francesco Esposito, director of Bioxgreen Technology, a Chennai-based biotech firm, says the demand for masks in Europe is expected to be in the order of millions. It is said that more than 150 million pieces are needed a month in each European country, including different models of masks.
Each buyer decides on the model of mask every month and some of the major suppliers are China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina.
“India can be a fantastic alternative to China,” he said. “India, for me, is the world between China and Europe. It has the skills and capability. If it does good quality products, it has huge export potential (for masks).”
In an article, ArtValley, an organisation that co-ordinates with Indian and Italian entrepreneurs to promote cooperation, says, “In Europe, there is a major need for masks manufactured in India for protection against the COVID-19 outbreak since the combined import from China and local production within the European Union is not enough to meet the increasing demand.”
China covers only half of the global demand and India can enter the market as the second-largest producer in the world, when the Indian government lifts the ban on export of masks and PPEs.
According to K.S. Sundararaman, chairman, Indian Technical Textile Association, Indian manufacturers make surgical, respirator and cloth masks and masks with high particulate filtration efficiency and breathability. “There is a lot of innovation going on, making the masks aesthetically good while providing high protection efficiency,” he says.
Regarding exports, Mr. Sundararaman points out, “There are world-class manufacturing facilities in India. We have the capacity to meet Indian needs and those of exports, too. There is a fantastic opportunity.”
Currently, the number of cloth manufacturers are more. When the Union government permits export of masks, overseas buyers will ask for certifications and standards and manufacturers, who are able to meet these requirements, will export. More machinery is imported to make top quality masks. What the country needs is a full-fledged testing facility for masks.
Raja M. Shanmugham, president of Tiruppur Exporters’ Association, says Tiruppur, which has not been a healthcare products manufacturing hub so far, has ventured into production of masks, coveralls and personal protection gear. Even during lockdown, during the last couple of days, almost 200 seam-sealing machines were imported and installed by companies in Tiruppur.
The Centre is expected to revoke the ban on export of masks soon. “When the lockdown is lifted, we will have access to more resources. We have a testing facility in Coimbatore. Tiruppur will now become a hub for making quality medical textiles,” he says.
An official source at South India Textile Research Association (SITRA), which is one of the testing facilities approved by the Union government to test masks and fabric used in coveralls, says masks are currently tested for five parameters and the important ones among these are: bacterial filtration efficiency, breathability, and splash resistance.
Some companies are coming out with woven cloth masks that have anti-bacterial and water-repellent coatings. The masks should be able to meet, probably, more parameters for exports.