Published Date: 6th December 2021
Don & Low UK Ltd and INEOS O&P UK
The sharp increase in demand for high quality, personal protective equipment (PPE) was required to help protect people involved in the front-line fight against the coronavirus. The two UK businesses who have worked closely together for 20+ years, collaborated to support, the frontline medical professionals of our NHS facing up to COVID19 every hour of the day.
As the world fought to cope with the pandemic, the challenge facing Don & Low was to rapidly increase production of breathable face masks, they asked INEOS to help them. They needed to increase production of the non-woven fabric that is the key component of breathable face masks Our goal was simple, no production hold-ups, no delivery delays, no quality issues – everything 100% On Time, In Full.
Scotland, the UK and indeed the world was battling to overcome supply issues of PPE in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and global demand for face masks soared to unprecedented levels. With everyone working tirelessly to meet demand, supply chains came under pressure and in Forfar existing production lines were re-purposed or re-staffed. Shift patterns were extended to run 24/7 to fill the gaps in available supply that shortages cruelly highlighted. At our end, INEOS O&P UK in Grangemouth were helped by our local logistics partners who appreciated the sense of urgency at Don & Low – together we made it happen.
With the partners in the project well known to each other, in some ways success was assured from the outset - the principal pressure fell on Don & Low but there were knock-on consequences to ensure that the INEOS O&P UK team at Grangemouth could prioritise orders destined for Forfar. The combined challenges for the team were to ensure that there were no hold-ups in the supply chain – short-lead times demanded fast and responsive actions. The success depended on good teamwork and great communication. With the mask-making equipment running full speed, replenishment orders were synchronised to production demand; everyone shared the same sense of urgency that would help reduce the growing sense of alarm both here at home and throughout the country.
Don & Low using INEOS suppled polypropylene polymer had the skills and experience to turn out the quality and quantity of masks being demanded. The resulting non-woven material had to be strong and exceptionally uniform such that it would provide excellent safety barrier properties.
Of critical importance was health and safety, but with the dreaded “mask mouth” a really demotivating factor, comfort in use was equally important for the medical staff. The importance of breathability was vitally important as face masks moved from being a short-use experience occurring perhaps three to four times per day in pre-pandemic conditions to a continuous, day-long wear, and a permanent feature on extended shifts as medical teams came under intense pressure.
Don & Low had the expertise, technical know-how and the capacity to be agile – INEOS had the capability to respond fast and provide support whenever we were called upon to do so. The combined talents of both companies came together to meet some of the needs of the country’s medical teams at a particularly demanding time – the system coped with intense pressure to accelerate and dramatically increase the scale of production over an incredibly short period of time.
Being local to each other meant the shortest possible supply chain. Being close to each other meant good communication allowed the teams in both organisations to ensure supplies were prioritised and deliveries made in full and on schedule to keep the Don & Low production lines running at full speed.
What it means to people
At INEOS we focus on high quality polymers produced using energy-efficient processes and high operational reliability producing at scale with as little waste as possible. At Don & Low their focus is on producing high performance, cost-effective material solutions to meet their clients’ demands, leading them to become one of the most versatile manufacturers serving global markets.
There were no miracles or overnight heroics, simply good teamwork, and good communication with a common aim to ensure that there were no interruptions in the supply chain for what had been a commodity product manufactured to schedule into a critical need / zero inventory “must-have” in the midst of a crisis that affected every country in the globe.
As Graham MacLennan, INEOS O&P UK’s Polymers Business Manager puts it,
We felt grateful that we could organise everything from our side to help Don & Low accelerate their production by prioritising our operations to keep them supplied without interruption despite the massive and sudden spike in demand.
Colin Johnson, Managing Director Don & Low Ltd remarked,
It was a time of great pressure and there was a real need for everyone to work together to respond as fast as we could. In those circumstances it was great to know that together with INEOS we were all making a small contribution to help protect the medical professionals who were doing everything they could to protect and help us.
What it means today
This story is one of a series of insights that INEOS is sharing with the wider public so as people get a better understanding of what Sustainability means to everyday lives and what it takes to produce safe and sustainable products that serve society’s needs.
At Don & Low in Forfar, the experts there are committed to designing and manufacturing products that facilitate recycling. Along with their parent organisation, the Thrace Group, they are totally aligned with the “European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy” that demands all plastic packaging placed on the market to be recyclable or reusable by 2030.
Our companies are continuously investing in reinventing plastics, and though you may not have realised it that includes having the flexibility and agility to rise to the unexpected demand of products like breathable face masks that protect lives during the COVID19 pandemic.
INEOS O&P UK would like to echo the words of Don & Low’s call to action,
Let’s reinvent plastics!
It’s time to change the way we design, produce, use and dispose of them
If you are wearing a disposable face mask in the battle against COVID19 please may we ask of you to dispose of it properly after use. We want you and the planet to stay safe, clean and healthy. Thank you.