BT Medical Devices is the latest group venture, initially focusing on FFP2 masks for front-line response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the future aim to enter other niche areas
In response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, BT Industrial has extended its plastics-processing capacity to include polymer-based medical fabrics and components. Its electrostatic melt-blown fabric is currently used exclusively for FFP2 face masks, available in both an ear-loop and head-band option.
The fabric has been independently tested and confirmed by Protechnik, a State-owned laboratory. The medical-device operation has already attained ISO 9001:2015 quality-management accreditation. “We have carried out deep benchmarking of our products and know we are up there with the best globally,” comments BT Industrial Group Founder and Managing Director Kgomotso Lekola.
A state-of-the-art ISO Class 7 cleanroom facility has been established at the premises of BT Industrial. This means a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration rate of 99.99% efficient at 0.3 micron. The machinery for the assembly-line process was designed by BT Industrial and manufactured by a Chinese OEM.
The long-term plan is that the ISO Class 7 cleanroom will allow BT Medical Devices to enter other niche areas. “There will always be a need for face masks. But it is not really about the masks at the end of the day. It is about the platform we have put in place. That is why we place so much emphasis on our R&D capacity, as this is ultimately the space we want to be a major player in going into the future,” comments Lekola.
The world-class medical-grade face masks feature a proprietary five-layer fabric design. Benchmarked against top global competitors, the masks are comparable, if not better, in critical areas such as filtration efficiency and low breathing resistance, as well as being extremely cost-competitive.
The entire process to establish the ISO Class 7 cleanroom, from concept to commissioning, was completed in record time after the initial hard lockdown at end March. In addition, two fully-equipped test laboratories, staffed by 11 engineers and technicians, keep a close eye on quality control in support of the group’s ISO 9001 and ISO 4427 accreditations.
“We run among the best laboratories in our space in South Africa, based on our equipment, personnel and the training we put them through,” adds Lekola. BT Industrial recently sent an engineer to the CSIR for further training on various material identification techniques.
BT Industrial itself manufactures pipes for water infrastructure and can process 1 500 metric tons of HDPE resin a month. To date it has produced over 9 000 km of pipe, equating to about 70% of the earth’s diameter. The demand for core water infrastructure due to the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that about 80% of the company’s orders for the first half of the year were destined for cross-border projects.
“We control the means of production, which means not only the value addition, but also the opportunities it creates for us. We employ over 100 people, with more than 20 people holding BSc degrees, of whom many are black African women qualified in chemistry and engineering who have never been afforded the opportunity to be employed in their areas of expertise,” adds Lekola.
The move from HDPE pipes to medical devices is part and parcel of a carefully orchestrated diversification strategy. “We have repositioned and reimagined the business from what it was before,” reflects Lekola. The three main pillars are solutions for heavy industry, such as pipes and engineering services, to solutions and scientific services for the medical industry. “These are held together by our science, engineering and R&D focus, because it allows us to maintain a certain core competency around the processing of materials.”
BT Medical Devices has deliberately focused on the high end of the face-mask market, as opposed to the unregulated sector and cheap imports. “We operate exclusively in the clinical healthcare space where there is strict regulation. We only make medical-grade fabrics and face masks, which is where there is a current shortage. Our key differentiator is our fabric which has unique IP invested in it,” concludes Lekola.