At the time of writing, many parts of the nation are in lockdown or heading towards it in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world. So many people and businesses have been thrown into chaos as measures to prevent the spread or flatten the curve are put in place. The situation is so fast moving at this point, government and authorities are updating the public multiple times a day on various mediums; TV, radio, social media and advertising across all these formats.
Every company I have ever given my email address to is contacting me about their pandemic plans; thanks Menulog and random online store I don’t remember visiting.
The whole situation is bringing out the best in people (people sewing clinical masks, caring for the vulnerable in our community) and worst (TP hoarding and ignoring social distancing guidance).
The Defence community is no different in this regard. Communications started slowly and ramped up over March from the Government/Department side of the house. Initial communications were around what to do if you had the virus or suspected you did. They moved onto what Defence was doing in response to the pandemic; contact tracing, logistic support to state governments and now enforcing border entrants to make sure people do self-isolate for 14 days.
The biggest industry story has been that of SME Med-Con, Australia’s only producer of surgical masks in Shepparton, Victoria. Med-Con’s CEO Steve Csiszar outlined his company’s manufacturing capacity before COVID-19.
“We’ve always produced a superior product; but like many local companies, we’ve lost market share to cheap Chinese imports. Because of our high design and production standards, we’ve retained a proportion of the Australian market – about 2 million units a year – a fraction of current consumption,” Csiszar said to ADM’s Rob Napier.
To address concerns about supply shortages, the Department of Industry, Science and Technology approached Med-Con offering to assist with ramping up production. At the time, only two of their three machines were operational.
“The challenge was threefold: insufficient machinery, raw material and trained operators. My Department sought assistance under the Defence Assistance to the Civil Community (DACC) arrangements,” Minister of Department of Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews said.
“The team, which is comprised of highly qualified engineering maintenance specialists from the Army Logistic Training Centre and the Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria, is supporting the request,” Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds said.
LTCOL Nathan Crowley from the Directorate of Logistics Plans at Army Headquarters was appointed to arrange engineering support and short-term skilled labour on the production line.
“We had a ready workforce who could do repair and fabrication work needed to get their third machine operational. We had some of the best and brightest industry partners and tradesmen working on this task,” LTCOL Crowley said to ADM.
Soldiers of the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from Bandiana and Puckapunyal completed refurbishment and commissioning of the unserviceable machine and are working around the clock with Med-Con as operators until extra civilian staff can be recruited and trained.
There will be many stories of businesses in trouble over the coming months, with more than a few most likely not making it through till the end of this year. The knock-on effects of international supply chains in trouble will also hit capability and schedules. But there will be bright points where businesses and their people step up. ADM will continue to report on both.
This article first appeared in the April 2020 edition of ADM.