New fully automatic and high-speed line of ANDRITZ Küsters GmbH for face mask and respirator productions.
New fully automatic and high-speed line of ANDRITZ Küsters GmbH for face mask and respirator productions.
Photo: 123

Most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) production lines, particularly including those for surgical masks and respirators, are located in China. Even though European countries have set their self-sufficient strategy and installed production capacity as soon as possible, there has still been a shortage of PPE supply in Europe.

Therefore, Europe is expected to still rely on the import of PPE in the coming year. Nevertheless, innovative solutions are being developed for high-speed production and packaging.

In the recent webinar focusing on the topic of production and packaging technologies for respiratory protection masks, member companies of VDMA Textile Machinery Association shared their latest solutions and market development regarding the above situation.

Material and technology the major challenges

According to ANDRITZ Küsters GmbH, production of face masks was not so meaningful in Europe in the pre-COVID time, but now the market has changed. Global production of surgical face masks and respirators raised 10 folds within a year, from 10 billion units in 2019 to 130 billion units by the end of 2020.

In February 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, mass volume of face mask supply was needed immediately. And ANDRITZ contributed to filling the void in 15 weeks, with its new sources for meltblown and new earloop elastics, as well as its new fully automatic and high-speed machines for face mask and respirator productions.

Looking back to the issue, Dr Kerstin Grönke, Technical Product Management at Andritz Küsters, said, “Face mask is a mature product with the requirements clearly defined and standardized. Three-layer structure with PP spunbond for inner and outer layers, and PP meltblown for infiltration layer. But due to the tense situation, sourcing of meltblown capacity and other materials such as earloop elastics has posed a challenge.”

Dr. Grönke added that, another challenge is the development of technological and innovative solutions for high speed application so as to raise the production capacity of face masks in Europe. “It is a highly dynamic development process, which really requires our holistic view on material and nonwoven technologies.”

Optimized machines for face mask manufacturing and packaging

On the other hand, SCHOTT & MEISSNER Maschinen-& Anlagenbau, a global supplier of machine building for nonwovens, introduced its made in Germany face mask production line for FFP, N95 and KN95 models. It can produce foldable face masks up to 6 layers of nonwoven filter material like spunbond and meltblown.

The production line fulfills all necessary EU safety requirements (machine directive 2006/42/EG "CE label"). Its machine features include long lasting ultrasonic welding unit, availability of machine enclosure upgrading to clean room conditions, and highly durable parts from German manufacturers.

Apart from face mask production, face mask packaging was also discussed in the webinar. Hugo Beck, a manufacturer of the packaging segment for flow packs, bags and shrink packs worldwide, explained different packaging styles for masks.

For example, flow pack for airtight packaging with stable seals is usually in small stacks for about 10 pieces of FFP-masks or surgical masks. It can be infeeding manually or automatically from pre-arranged line.

Meanwhile, shrink bag for bundle packaging with nice and small seals and non-airtight is in stack with bigger amounts for FFP-masks or surgical masks. It can also be shrinking for better looking and smaller bags.