OFB Driven Success Story : A Case Study of India’s Mission PPE

Sub Title : A tale of OFB’s untiring efforts to provide PPE

Issues Details : Vol 14 Issue 3 Jul – Aug 2020

Author : Shri Hari Mohan, DGOF & Chairman/OFB&Vijay Mittal, Dy Director Gen/OFB

Page No. : 39

Category : Military Technology

: July 28, 2020

This is a remarkable story of imaginative leadership, transformative vision, innovation and collaboration in times of tremendous adversity. The case study depicts the unlimited possibilities and options that are available when pooling of resources takes place duly supported by Central Government and State Authorities, be it  for any cause  

Challenge of COVID-19

One of the biggest challenges the world has faced in recent times is the crisis created by Covid 19. One of the greatest pandemics in history; its  spread has caused severe distress the world over with more than 9 million people having contracted the virus and still counting. The pandemic as of now is showing no signs of abating while the whole world continues to fight the same to try and emerge out of it. India has been leading the race in this regard.

There never had been a dearth of innovators in the country. India quickly became a world leader with appreciation pouring in from various countries with respect to initiatives taken to fight the disease, be it implementing strict lockdowns, providing medicines or innovating local solutions.

As the battle waged, attention turned towards organizations which could  lead the nation in providing solutions during these tumultuous times. Directions and queries from various corners started pouring in as academics and subject experts were aware of OFBs infrastructure and technical capabilities in the field of chemicals & explosives, technical textiles and engineering skills.

OFB: the ever dependable

OFB a soldiering arm of the nation was itself  hit by the crisis as all the production units had fallen silent from 23rd March 2020 as per the lockdown directives of Government of India. However, OFB was expected to rise to the occasion and fight the scourge which was afflicting the entire mankind; irrespective of being rich or poor, strong or weak, good or bad… all are equally vulnerable.

As the pandemic spread, India faced a life threatening shortage of medical masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed by health workers in the forefront of the battle against the pandemic. The country was at a loss as there was no in-house manufacturing capability for PPEs. In March 2020, India had a total stock of 2,75,000 imported PPE kits and zero local manufacturing capacity. No country was ready to supply due to obvious constraints.

With import options closed, in-house development was the only option. OFB thus decided to evaluate various options of products and process diversion to align itself to meet the new challenge. It knew well that it had to start from scratch to save our ‘warriors’ i.e. doctors, health workers, municipal employees, police and security personnel and other volunteers who had been roped in. OFB has a well proven role of manufacturing “life-taking” equipment this time it was expected to take up the role of manufacturing “life-saving” products.

Time for out of box solutions

OFB, a high technology Government owned organisation immediately went into emergency mode. The focus shifted to short term technical innovations to find solutions. Initial discussions at the Apex level were focussed on identifying the core areas with respect to developing the production process, identifying sources of input materials, in depth study of technical requirements and testing infrastructure.

A core team of officers was formed at OFB HQ, headed by the DGOF & Chairman, OFB. A technical team was formed with officers from OFB HQ and specific factories to examine technical feasibility of manufacture of PPEs. Government of India had nominated HLL Life care, Trivandrum (HLL) as the nodal agency for procurement of various PPEs. HLL was contacted to seek technical, qualitative and quantitative requirements of PPEs. Many parallel actions were initiated across various factories identified to evolve alternate production processes.

The core team, headed by Chairman, OFB centrally monitored, directed, synergised, prioritised and coordinated all efforts made by various units within OFB. Simultaneously, there were wide ranging deliberations and coordination involving outside agencies like Ministries of the Government of India , test agencies, various district and state administrations and other agencies. Officers and employees of the Equipment Group of factories under the leadership of respective General Managers undertook a time bound exercise to start the production of PPEs. A task force helped to transform the present production set up of OEF group of Factories to produce PPEs.

Alternate manufacturing processes were also explored. The most important requirement was to have perfect sealing at the joints, which had to be subjected to rigorous tests to define the levels of protection. Options like ultrasonic heating, heat sealing of tape over the joints through heat sealing machines were all evaluated to manufacture samples to pass the required criteria stipulated in the relevant specifications (ASTM1670 and ISO16603).

With complete lockdown in place, the limited sources identified, were persuaded to open factories, manufacture the machines and deliver to respective OFs. Technical teams were deputed to these facilities for training and collection of machines. Sources for technical textile material required for manufacture of these items i.e. fabric as well as sealing tape were explored across the country. Necessary permissions for transportation  were also arranged in coordination with State/District authorities. To ensure quality of PPEs, NABL accredited QA Labs were identified and prototypes were sent for testing during the lockdown period after obtaining special permission from civil authorities. At this point time, OFB realized that the biggest constraint in the country in productionization of PPE kits is going to be the testing facilities as the country had only two labs i.e. DRDE Lab Gwalior and SITRA Lab Coimbatore. Sending samples for development of the product from far flung factories situated at Kanpur, Shahjahanpur and Chennai was a big challenge. In the meantime, OFB Secured an order of 1,10,000 coveralls from HLL, the nodal agency nominated for procurement of PPEs by Government of India. Since efforts were being made by certain other government and private institutions to establish production of PPEs, NABL accredited labs of both Gwalior and Coimbatore were flooded with development samples making their job extremely difficult with skeleton manpower available for work during the lockdown period.

Under normal circumstances, one would not expect OFB, better known for its expertise in developing 155mm large calibre howitzers (Dhanush), collaborating seamlessly with private sector textiles companies and developing testing equipment for Blood Penetrations Resistance Test.  However, OFB took up a challenge to design and make an instrument for blood penetration resistance in-house within 48 hours. This was the biggest bottleneck in the process of PPE production. The real professional satisfaction which OFB got was the success of its efforts in developing such an equipment which in turn expedited the entire development process of PPEs.

OFB explored the internet for information on stipulated standards and some test videos. After gaining the understanding of functioning and some essential requirements, three ordnance factories, namely SAF Kanpur, OFC Kanpur and HVF Avadi, were provided the basic inputs to design and produce a working model. These factories, despite lockdown, worked in a mission mode, with limited manpower, relentlessly and came out with working models. The first prototype of the test machine was developed independently by all three factories overnight.

After review of designs some basic features were harmonised and test setup was tried out multiple times before applying for NABL accreditation. Accreditation audit was carried out though video conference which lasted several hours late into the night by a team of auditors from different locations. Within one week, OFB had added two labs at SAF Kanpur and HVF Avadi accredited by NABL duly notified by Ministry of Textiles for testing of PPE coveralls in the country. This provided a big relief to fabric and garment manufacturers due to geographical locations in North and South India. Thereafter, OF Kanpur was designated as nodal factory to produce the test equipment and supply to  labs of OF units, at different geographical locations, to cater to the testing needs of coverall manufacturers across the country. The factory in no time manufactured 19 machines for use by various Ordnance Factories. Today OFB has an established testing facility network at nine Ordnance Factories with full online system for quality control mechanism for coveralls and online display of UCC. It has supported more than 100 textile manufacturers by testing their samples working day in day out and has tested samples in excess of 3000 nos. NABL played a crucial role for this achievement as they agreed to do audit through video conferencing, guided factories and worked late night to process the applications for accreditation even on holidays.

OFB’s effort a beacon for the future

Thus, OFB through its technical might, innovative mind set, close collaboration with various institutions, the state Governments/District authorities and countries highly fragmented textile industry helped create the world’s second largest PPE industry from scratch in 60 days.  OFB also did handholding  for the complete industry for manufacturing and technical know-how through national level webinars in association with CII and SIDM.