We joined the fight against COVID-19
It's March, 2020 and the challenge is to recreate life-saving machines that were designed and manufactured 40 years ago.
Just one or two small problems though:
Did we do it?
We actually did! But it was a nail-biter.
And we needed a cheer squad, so we started this daily blog to encourage people to join us on our quest to help Australia's only current surgical mask manufacturer, Med-Con increase its production from 2 million to 50 million masks per year. Thousands followed our progress.
The project was a huge success and won awards. You can read more about Project Med-Con and its legacy here
Scroll down to see how it rolled out.
Thank you for joining us on our 60-day marathon.
When we put our hat in the ring for Project Med-Con, we had limited understanding of the complexity of the task. It was much tougher than we thought, but we did it.
Machines 2 and 3 are nearing completion and will be delivered early. The extra order for Machines 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be rolled out weekly thereafter.
Australia's mask manufacturing capacity is secured thanks to the work of Joe Carmody and many dedicated engineers and technicians. We've proven that our nation's manufacturing capacity is alive and well and that engineering is a career that can save lives.
We hope that the legacy of Joe Carmody and our nation's response to COVID-19 will encourage a new generation of Australians to become inventors, builders, designers, engineers, technicians and tradespeople.
It's been an incredible, combined effort and an inspiring project to have been a part of. Even more amazing for the public support it's received through mainstream and social media. This blog alone has attracted tens of thousands of visitors.
Foodmach Director and the driving force behind us winning this project, Peter Marks, said: 'It's been encouraging for our team to receive so much positive feedback from the wider community. The kind words have kept everyone's energy up during the 24/7 shifts we've been running to meet a 2-month deadline. It's a project that would ideally take us 4 or 5 months.'
We have many people to acknowledge for Project Med-Con. They can be viewed on our credits page (maybe you're in there too).
We'll keep regular updates going on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn where we hope to meet you again.
Museums Victoria has plans to document the Foodmach Project Med-Con story and we'll be helping them build their collection. You can follow the progress of 'Collecting the Curve' on their website and get updates on Facebook.
With gratitude from our family to yours.
Please stay safe.
The Team @ Foodmach
Update: Med-Con Mask Machine 1 is running without intervention. Med-Con is happy, the machine operator is happy, so that's a success!
So today's the day for Joe Carmody's tribute.
It's taken the assistance of many people to put together this perspective on an exceptional man.
Joe Carmody is now 94 years old and in care. We dearly wish we could see him, speak to him, ask him a million questions—or just honour him in person. The work that we've done as a united effort between so many draftsmen, designers, engineers, technicians, machinists and project managers was once all done by this gentle genius and his own engineers, one of whom we've been fortunate to work with, and several of whom we've been able to talk to.
We'd like to think that this is just the start of some long-overdue recognition for Joe Carmody—engineer, scientist, artist and creator of the Carmody Mask Machine.
Please read, share and open up the dialogue about a truly special Australian.
A moment for Med-Con, the regional Aussie company that refused to quit.
Why did Med-Con keep manufacturing medical masks when their market had shrunk?
Because they believed in Australian-made.
Ray Stockwell, CEO of Operations, Med-Con: ' We're stubborn. We should have stopped manufacturing masks 10 years ago because we were barely covering costs. But we believe in the quality of what we do here in Australia, and we refused to give in to imported products. We knew we made a safer mask. There were some diehard customers who chose to support us even though our products were more expensive.'
There are many people around our country right now that are grateful they did! Med-Con's increased capacity will enable them to produce 59 million masks between now and the end of the year.
'Thank you to Med-Con for all your work in manufacturing masks during this crisis. I am a nurse and it gives me hope that I and my colleagues may continue to be protected whilst battling this virus. We are so grateful to every staff member that works at your company.' Emma, nurse.
We've been so busy with this project to increase our local production of masks that we've had to push out the timelines on a few projects for our other customers—who also believe in Australian-made.
While we have huge capacity in our factory and even seven mask machines won't slow us down, Project Med-Con took our entire design team off other projects and everyone else had to wait.
Although it was early-stage lockdown and the world literally stopped for COVID-19, the generosity of understanding project managers in busy FMCG businesses (whose factories have not slowed down in the slightest) is noteworthy. Thank you.
When you choose to support local, you choose to keep Australians safe.
Med-Con 1 is making perfect masks, but there were a few issues during production last night.
We need to make adjustments to a poly cord belt that popped off a few times. The up-stacker works perfectly until suddenly one mask is out of alignment. And a false trigger by a reject mask was fixed by moving the photoelectric eye that was counting the mask tie as an actual mask.
All small fixes that we're rolling out across all seven machines. And our production line is roaring along, with the help of our suppliers.
Something we've been very grateful for over the course of this project is the reliability of our supply chain.
Our preferred suppliers are not only selected for their products. It's equally as much about the consultation, commissioning and after-sales service they provide.
Transparency and reporting go a long way to alleviating our Project Managers' stress on a tight timeline like this one. Have the products been made and shipped? Will they arrive in time? There have been a few tense moments over the course of the last 56 days, which was to be expected during a pandemic, but overall, we were blessed with parts when we needed them.
Many of our suppliers have gone the extra mile for Project Med-Con and we thank them. Our local parts manufacturers have without fail been incredible. We'll be listing out all the people and businesses who contributed to the mission to build the Med-Con Joe Carmody mask machine on Day 60.
Our workshop will have the weekend off before the continued rush next week.
There's only been one person who opted to work from home due to a slight sniffle, everyone else is in extreme good health. It helps that we've been wearing masks when we can't maintain 1.5 metres between people.
What's the latest on wearing medical masks in Australia?
Thanks to the fastest site commissioning of a new machine we've yet achieved, Med-Con will start producing masks on Mask Machine 1 tonight.
Power and compressed air were connected yesterday. Jason Vandyk came in with our team for a test run this morning. Some adjustments needed to be made due to one layer of fabric being 0.1mm thicker than the material we tested with at the factory, but that was quickly fixed and before long the machine was running at full speed—44 masks a minute.
The first carton of 50 x Level 3 Med-Con surgical masks was made on Med-Con's new machine. It was cause for great celebration by quite a few people—including our government contacts and consultants—but we'll need to save the actual celebrating for post lockdown.
Installing a machine this size and complexity one day and starting production the next is unheard of.
It's a credit to everyone involved with the project and a testament to the team's focus and detailed testing in our factory.
Ray Stockwell, CEO of Operations at Med-Con, who had anticipated a 2-week commissioning process on-site, sent a photo of the carton with: 'Big shout out to all involved. Thank you!'
When asked last week after a factory visit if he'd had any doubts Project Med-Con could be delivered, he replied: 'Foodmach had just so many challenges to overcome. This machine has seven different inputs that all require different tensions. I had a few sleepless nights over it, but I felt reassured when I saw Machine 1 built.'
Foodmach Controls Systems Engineer Rob Voisey was at Med-Con adjusting the safety system sensors due to a column sitting next to the machine. He was also training Med-Con's operators this afternoon.
Everyone seems fairly comfortable and ready to roll. The Med-Con afternoon/night shift took over from there and we'll hear how they went in the morning.
Med-Con 1 has left the building.
Collected by Leocata’s Transport from Tatura, Med-Con's new mask machine was safely delivered to site by 10 am.
We thank them for their careful handling of our precious cargo.
Med-Con's contractors, Byers Electrical (in yellow shirts) connected it to the mains while Foodmach mechanical and electrical team members reassembled it for testing tomorrow.
And finally, as we put the finishing touches on our own Joe Carmody tribute, check out this very nice acknowledgement of Joe by Minister Karen Andrews at an ABC Press Club address today.
Minister Andrews also shared some feedback from Kate, a theatre nurse, who wrote to Med-Con recently via their website.
She said: 'I am a theatre nurse at Castlemaine Health. Yesterday for the first time I used one of your Level 3 Green face masks. I was blown away by the quality. They are so soft!! I absolutely love them. I really appreciate you working overtime to ensure that we have masks. Thank you so much!! Keep up the great work!'
As Minister Andrews said: '... Joe’s machines were exported to Finland, the US, the Middle East and many more places. So just imagine how many front line workers around the world are being protected right now by an item made through Aussie ingenuity.'
We at Foodmach believe that Joe deserves a lifetime achievement award and we'd like to see an engineering innovation award in his name. We'll be looking for ways to make that happen.
If you are interested in the state of play in Australian manufacturing, don't miss this Q&A with our Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.
Med-Con 1, Australia's first new mask machine for over 30 years, is ready for delivery.
The safety system was given the all-clear and safety reporting is done. We're stripping the machine down and making it ready for delivery to Med-Con tomorrow at around 10am.
Machines 2-7 are being poured over by mechanical and electrical teams and our factory is busier than an ants' nest.
It looks like we're building an army of machines. But considering the risk—there are still cases of COVID-19 in Australia with unidentified sources of infection—we continue to be at war with an invisible enemy.
Just like the last time our factory was used in a war effort, the battle is also being fought on the factory floor.
Here's our soldiers (those available for a photo today).
Cheers for Team Foodmach. Your outstanding teamwork, exceptional skill and unwavering dedication made this possible.
Between 6-10 am our mechanical team worked through a list of remaining tasks to complete Machine 1.
The Med-Con logo stamp machine was fully commissioned.
The spur gears, which are essentially wheels with teeth projecting radially and present a safety hazard for fingers, were given neat orange covers.
Our Controls Team programmed in the safety laser scanners to the required zoning, guard switches and e-stops (emergency stop buttons). The safety system was validated. Tomorrow we'll go over the safety assessment and finalise reporting.
The stainless steel and polycarbonate guards are on and fitting perfectly. Tomorrow we'll do the big reveal, but there's a sneak peek on our video. It's looking pretty smart, we think!
Six days to go and counting.
Machine 2 Progress:
Almost ready for dry commissioning.
Machine 3 Progress:
Ready to power up.
We've started cutting steel.
One of the more intriguing parts of this project to build Australia's first mask machines in decades has been its history—and how that history has woven itself through the project in remarkable ways.
The design that we're currently updating and re-making was both invented by Joe Carmody and built by him and his team at Carmody Specialist Engineering. Joe's workshop was by all accounts a treasure trove of classic tools and machinery, collected over a lifetime and lovingly used until he retired much later than most.
When Carmody Specialist Engineering shut down a few years ago—Joe now being over 90 years old and settled into a nursing home in Shepparton—his tools and machines were auctioned off and purchased by other machine shops and engineering firms in the area.
Two of our suppliers were using some of Joe's machines to make parts for this project (see here and here) and we realised that in fact, we were too.
We have a WMW SABO twin head pedestal drill (see photo) that once belonged to the man himself. One of our team members describes it as the 'go to drill for most of the guys on the shop floor. They are a good solid and precise drill and when we saw Joe was selling one in his clearance sale we jumped on it.'
Vernon Chessells, who was a first-year apprentice to Joe Carmody during the build of the first machine, wrote on our Facebook page that Joe also made his own milling machine and that it was 'a very sad day in June 2018' when Joe's collection ceased to be.
It's some consolation that they're still being used and appreciated. The Joe Carmody legacy lives on in all sorts of ways.
A 40-year old design being recreated and modernised using some of the original build tools is a reminder of the value of good engineering.
It's said 'they don't build 'em like they used to', but many Australian firms, in fact, do build the way we always have—to last. It's our aim that the new Med-Con mask machines will last just as long as the originals.
How will they be updated in 30-40 years? That'll be interesting to see.
Read: Three trends that will shape the future of engineering
Only one person came in today—our Med-Con Project Manager, Justin Kyne.
He made sure all the brackets that hold up cables inside Machine 1 are sound, did a bit of welding and general prep for Monday's early start. There's a hit list of jobs to complete before the machine can be pulled apart for transport.
Let us for a moment appreciate what will soon be 'under the hood' once all the guards go on.
We like to keep it neat in there, and the team has done a great job.
The team is taking the weekend off as Victoria emerges from lockdown, just a little.
Victorians will be allowed to visit friends and family in small gatherings and go walking, fishing and even play golf.
All we need now is some nice weather to go with it! (Which we did).
Although there are some reports of Covid-19 cases in the greater community, and we've had a few remote staff members with 'flu, we have been very fortunate to have all factory staff well and on duty.
With 6 more machines to get out, we just need to keep that good fortune and good health management going.
The stamp assembly was trial-fitted on Machine 1 today.
This device stamps a Med-Con logo using an ultrasonic welder into the non-woven fabric as passes through the laminator. It provides a bit of extra lamination (bonding of the layers together) as well as brand identification and authentication.
A small crew will be in tomorrow for a short day fitting stainless steel guards and will take the rest of the weekend off. It's a luxury we can afford now that we've tamed Machine 1.
Med-Con have been busy expanding their facilities to accommodate seven extra mask machines. CEO of Operations, Ray Stockwell, said it's been a 'very exciting but dynamic time, with plans changing by the minute'. They had had almost finished signing off the plans to house three new machines when they were told they needed to house an extra four machines.
With 24/7 production, they'll now be making 160 million masks a year.
We plan to load Med-Con 1 (as we've named it) on Wednesday the 20th of May for delivery.
Machine 2 progress
• Mechanical fit up 90%
• Electrical 95%
Machine 3 progress
• Mechanical 60%
• Electrical 45%
A picture paints a thousand words.
And—as we've learned this week—an infinitesimal adjustment made to one part of a medical mask machine can throw out something else further down the line.
By about 3pm, however, with maximum effort from all involved, we had a box of saleable-quality masks and Machine 1 was officially deemed 'factory accepted'.
Jason Vandyk (seen here making a final tweak) and Med-Con senior operator Christine Schott were helping us with commissioning today. Med-Con gave them combined authority for FAT (Factory Acceptance Testing). Ray Stockwell, Med-Con CEO of Operations had said: 'If they're happy, I'm happy.'
Once the machines are in place at Med-Con, adjustments will be ongoing in order to accommodate material inconsistencies. That's just how it goes with the non-woven fabrics used.
For now, commissioning is done and the masks being made meet quality standards.
Cheers for Team Foodmach, almost a week ahead of schedule.
Jason left here this afternoon to return to his own busy engineering firm in Warragul (3.5 hours away). He'll be back at Med-Con for site commissioning with Foodmach engineers next week.
Tomorrow, we'll start organising delivery times for Med-Con's new equipment.
It's not all done and dusted—the machines will be disassembled for transporting and reassembled on the other side. Usually, it's easier the second time around, but it's still going to be big.
The factory team is still perfecting Med-Con Machine 1.
Getting the multiple new drives to mimic the original single drive, which was engaged with a clutch and a brake, is a balancing act. The new drives have a more controlled rate of acceleration than the original, causing a different startup profile.
And we're working around parts made from drawings which are modelled off an old machine. It is during commissioning, while running product, that you really notice if tolerances are slightly out.
It's been a bit of a headache, but that's how commissioning goes.
We got the up-stacker working, we nearly have a perfect mask and we're still on target.
Back in the factory at 6am.
As the pile of test masks on the floor grows to mountain-like proportions, Software Engineer David Curtain is writing the code for the remote access PLC—by remote.
Normally this would be done in the factory while connected to the machine. But because anyone who can work from home must do so, the team came up with a plan.
Dave sent us a photo of his home office setup, which includes:
He said: 'Everything here is live and working.'
Pretty cool and all made possible by our talented people. Last month they commissioned a large palletising system in another country by remote after they were evacuated for lockdown. Unheard of in our industry, and all thanks to their elegant use of code.
We now have masks entering the up-stacker and we have a working ‘rejector’.
As masks travel along Section 3 of the machine towards the stacker that packs them into a box, the operator—who is responsible for quality control—can press a button to reject any mask that doesn’t meet Med-Con's stringent quality standards. Obviously the masks are travelling at quite a speed, as this machine is designed to make around 40 masks a minute, but the very-experienced Med-Con operators will pick them out in a split second.
The pile of masks we made today (see photo) while getting the rejector to work is considerably larger than what you'd hope to see during normal operation :)
When we produced a mask for the first time yesterday, it was just 6 weeks to the day since we’d received the order and started on drawings. With more time we could automate the quality control/rejection process using vision technology and sensors, which is what we do on a large scale for packaging lines. Time is about the only thing we don't have right now.
Med-Con were here today inspecting the work in progress.
Although we’ve made the mask machines a lot safer and easier to use, it will be an adjustment process for the operators. Change is not so easy when you’re used to doing things a certain way for many years. We’re doing a bit of a time jump from the 1980’s to 2020, bypassing a few steps in technology’s progress and going straight from air controls to a digital HMI (Human-Machine Interface or screen).
However, no one gets left behind in our operator training sessions. We don’t leave our customers’ side until everyone’s 100% familiar and comfortable with their new machine.
The commissioning process is certainly quicker than it would have been back in the day. When we need to speed the machine up or down for testing and to see where the potential issues are happening, we press a button on the HMI screen. We now have infinite speed control thanks to the Rockwell PLC and integrated servo controllers and motors.
The original machines are using an old pneumatic system with pneumatic actuation. Tubes with air were plugged into ‘and’ ‘or’ modules to control movement. You had to physically climb under the machine and use an Allen key to adjust the machine speed.
We’ve changed that to PLC control that drives solenoid valves that drive cylinders. This is called electro-pneumatic (basically replacing air actuation with electricity). The adjustments that are taking us a few days would have taken weeks, and as our Control Systems Engineer Rob Voisey said: ‘There’s more art in what the original engineers were doing all those years ago than what we’re doing now.’
Kudos to Joe Carmody and his people. We just feel ever so grateful we have one of them working with us on the project (Jason Vandyk).
Jason and our team have been going through the painstaking process of revising tension issues on the pleating rollers. The masks being made were 5mm smaller on each side than in the centre.
A eureka moment at 5pm may have solved the problem. Or so we hope!
We made a mask!! And it looks pretty good.
Med-Con Mask Machine 1 is definitely coming together. We spent much of our day perfecting the rollers for the pleating of the laminated fabric, then the nose wire applicator and the tape cutters. We managed to get everything working except the up-stacker, which places groups of finished masks into their packaging.
Our Controls Team worked alongside the Mechanical Team, dividing their time between Machine 1 and 2.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the engineering challenges we work on at Foodmach are control systems.
The packaging machines we make in-house feature control systems that retrieve information from sensors throughout the machine operation and use it to deliver real-time diagnostics to the operator.
A good control system can ensure that changeovers (for products or packaging formats) take minutes instead of hours, determine exactly where a problem is occurring and prevent breakdowns and maintenance issues. And that's just for starters.
We can safely say we have the best software coders in the business. Advanced controls systems are something we specialise in, and that’s exactly what we’re delivering to Med-Con.
In updating the original mask machine controls from air logic to digital controls, we've also made it a lot more user-friendly. We hope Med-Con's operators will be as happy as we are with the results. Med-Con's Operations Manager, Ray Stockwell, will be in tomorrow so we'll find out then.
BREAKING NEWS: Project Med-Con is now officially at 75% completion, we're on target and we've been asked to build another four mask machines for Med-Con—bringing the total to seven.
Which is, of course, an honour and a huge responsibility all in one. Australia needs to secure its supplies of PPE and we will continue to do our bit.
We’ve been catching our breath for a day before the final two-week rush, and taking time to be with or make contact with our families for Mother’s Day in Australia. Depending on which state you live in, contact means different things. Here in Victoria, we’re still on lockdown, which is possibly why no-one in our factory is sick, even with colds or ‘flu’s. We wouldn't have made such good progress to date if we’d had to work around staff absences.
Our staff's good health is thanks to the great work of the entire community, who have taken social distancing measures seriously.
Or were it not for our great network of suppliers, who we'll be calling on again.
Angus Christian, the Area Sales Manager for SMC Australia, who have been very supportive of our compressed timelines, commented this week:
‘It was great to see these new mask machines in various stages of the build all the way to Machine No.1, which is in its final stages… we greatly appreciate the work being done by Foodmach and love seeing SMC products being installed and used. The Covid-19 protocols in place for Foodmach and the Med-Con machine are exactly the same as those used by SMC.'
SMC provided parts for the pneumatics of the Med-Con machines: the air cylinders, flow controls and solenoid valves, which are electrically activated valves used to control the flow or direction of air.
So tomorrow is Monday and DAY 46 of 60. We still need to:
The race to the finish line is still on. We need Med-Con's capacity increase just as urgently now that restrictions are easing.
Today was spent fine-tuning and adjusting extremely fiddly sections of Med-Con Mask Machine 1.
Jason Vandyk and our commissioning team spent most of the day on the pleating and trim stitch rollers, then the guillotine and nose wire feed... very fine, time-consuming work. But everything’s looking good.
We also trial-fitted the polycarbonate safety guards made up by Industrial Plastic Solutions in Keysborough and safety switches from SICK on Section 3 of the machine.
We ran split shifts: Mechanical Team started at 5 am, Electrical Team came in at 7 am and the whole commissioning team continued on.
You’ll notice we’ve posted a photo of some muffins on our lunchroom table.
These were made for our staff by the 10yr old daughter of our Production Manager, Craig Williams. That Lillian thought to give us something delicious to brighten up morning tea is special all on its own—thank you, Lillian!
This brings us to the topic of the people who stand behind our people.
As our team members give up almost all their family time over an extended period in order to complete a project we all know is important—and that we desperately hope will never be as critical as it has been for some countries—it’s not only their sacrifice. They are partners and parents and children themselves, and their absence is felt. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that life is not to be taken for granted. Time with our loved ones is precious.
So here’s us paying homage to the families of our Foodmach family, and to the families of all the other essential workers around Australia—including our mentors and suppliers—that have pulled together over the last few months.
We see you, and we thank you for the role that you’ve played.
This is your project too.
After a long day of fine-tuning, modifications and adjustments, we’ve started the ‘wet’ commissioning of Machine 1.
Will it make a medical mask? That’s what we’ll be testing.
The morning started with our daily Project Med-Con alignment meeting, where we review progress from the day before, identify outstanding action items and any bottlenecks and plan for the day.
Representatives from all departments were present, as well as our guiding light, Jason Vandyk and special guest, Geoff Serra.
Geoff worked with original machine designer Joe Carmody (see newspaper photo from late '80's) and Jason Vandyk at Carmody Specialist Engineering to build the original Med-Con mask machines.
After seeing Machine 1 in its final stages of dry commissioning, he said: ‘It’s Joe’s machine! It’s been given a facelift and a new brain. But it’s all Joe.’ He was so delighted that the design has been recreated and modernised while retaining its essence—and with the outstanding quality of the build.
Geoff provided us with some valuable history for our Joe Carmody tribute. It’s something we’re working on in recognition of the amazing engineer, inventor and science-lover whose legacy of medical mask machines has been—under COVID-19—a priceless gift to his country. Joe’s machines make masks of such quality that Med-Con maintained a local market share during decades of impossibly cheap imports.
By all accounts, Joe Carmody, now in his 90’s, is a brilliant man.
As Geoff said: ‘A genius really—with an insatiable passion for understanding the world around him.’
Jason has been with us all week for the commissioning process, working as hard as every other Foodmach team member to identify and rectify any adjustments needed to run textiles through Machine 1. Our mechanical fitters have been running flat out.
Material set up started at 3 pm. Section 1 and part of Section 2 are running!
The painstaking process of dry commissioning adjustments continues.
The final few processes on Section 3 are now working and we hope to be ready to test product through Med-Con Mask Machine 1 shortly.
We set up, powered up and tested the Emerson-Branson ultrasonic welders with the help of Martin Gainey from Consonic, who supplied them.
One of our in-house Safety Experts conducted a complete risk assessment on Machine 1 today. He'll deliver his official report next week.
We're identifying the potential safety issues and making sure that our safety system design will work. It's critical to ensure the machine meets stringent Australian safety standards. We're big on safety at Foodmach and we have a whole department devoted to it.
Our safety system design includes:
See the laser sensors in action.
Dry commissioning of Machine 1 has begun.
This means we run the machine without any product/materials. It's a valuable process that helps us fine-tune the tolerances on the moving parts.
Our excellent Machinists started at 6 am and had finished the parts revisions from yesterday by 8 am, ready for today's events. Software and Mechanical teams were all involved, joined by Jason Vandyk, one of the original machine builders. His knowledge certainly helped the speed at which we ramped up Machine 1.
The software coding for the controls is now 100% complete and we'll test the controls thoroughly tomorrow.
Machine 2 is being fitted and wired up and Machine 3, which we've used for testing, has been dissembled and sent off to the metal finishers.
We had ABC television crews through the factory and Steve Csizar, CEO of Med-Con, all of whom were subjected to temperature testing, health questionnaires, safety gear and masks. No one escapes our entry requirements.
So far we've been blessed with a very healthy workforce. Everyone had a 'flu vaccination on Monday, and despite the unseasonably cold weather, no one's called in sick.
Steve seemed very happy with all the new tech we've added to modernise the machine design. He writes:
'Thank you for the terrific visit at your manufacturing plant. It was great to see the Med-Con Project coming together so well. Your staff are very professional and we really appreciated the tour and the friendly atmosphere. It is a credit to you guys, look forward to further dealings in the future.'
It's hard to believe that just 36 days ago we started cutting steel and manufacturing the first parts for the Med-Con mask machines.
Here we are, almost the nail-biting point of commissioning Machine 1. This is the tricky bit where we run up the machines and get them making medical masks.
It's been an awesome achievement for our team to progress this far—this fast—and our visitor today, Bruno Bello of AMTIL, the government consultants overseeing the project, agreed.
Last night we put together a hit list of all the tasks standing in the way of our very first Machine 1 power-up.
The Mechanical Team put in a huge effort to get it done before 10 am and our Software and Electrical team took over to perform the safety and IO testing (inputs and outputs). They worked on the thermostats and heating elements for the laminator and had the laminator drive section rollers running for Bruno's visit—way ahead of schedule.
Now we're used to engineering complex, large scale machines that involve mechanical, electrical and controls engineering, along with servo controls and pneumatics. So there are lots of similarities with this project.
And true, having all services in-house is a huge advantage. But even for us, recreating these 40-year-old gems has been an engineering challenge.
One of those challenges reared its head again today. The reverse-engineered drawings we've been working from have a few tolerance issues.
And so the poly cord conveyor on Section 3 that keeps pressure on the top of each mask as it transfers from the tape cutters to the ultrasonic stitch welders required modifications, which were done in-house and retrofitted.
Similar teething issues with some of the Section 3 assemblies that up-stack completed masks mean that we need to re-machine parts tomorrow and refit them.
Fortunately, we're still ahead of schedule. Machines 2 and 3 are in progress.
Today the mechanical team hooked up all the drive chains on Med-Con mask Machine 1.
They're back to 12 hours shifts this week in order to complete the fit-up of Machines 2 & 3.
Earlier in the day, the Machine Shop made up the new parts needed for the Electrical Team to complete the wiring on Machine 1.
The software for the controls is being worked on by the Controls Team. Safety guarding and operation is also a work in progress.
Now let's talk about drives. We find them pretty exciting because they move and run basically every motor you can think of.
We have two types in these machines:
1. Servo Drives - the tall skinny ones on the LHS (see photo). They keep the accuracy of the machine's start and stop functions. A device called an encoder on the motor drive shaft tells the drives where everything's at. It then knows how to adjust the motor speed.
Very important, because when the tape cutter severs the binding tape on the masks, everything stops. As soon as it releases, everything starts again.
2. The Variable Speed Drives (the ones to the right of the servo drives) control the lamination—where 4 layers of the mask are laminated together— and the main motor.
Drives regulate the electricity coming into the machine and convert it into exactly the torque or speed needed for the process.
The drive chain transmits the power of the drive motor to the moving parts of the machinery via sprockets, much like a bicycle.
Our Allen-Bradley Kinetix drives are from Rockwell Automation.
If you find machines and motors interesting, just wait till we discuss the controls and safety systems. We're very proud of them.
Stay tuned for more.
The Electrical Team outdid themselves today, completing most of Med-Con Mask Machine 1 wiring ahead of schedule.
In fact, the field wiring would have been completed to 100% were it not for a bit of a challenge with some parts. We need to alter the brackets for the push-button station, e-stops (emergency stops) and junction boxes from our original drawings/design—a minor but inevitable complication when you're designing on the fly.
The Machine Shop guys were on call to make parts changes to parts if needed. At this late stage of the day, we allowed them to complete their badly-needed weekend off. The new brackets will be cut out on the laser machine first thing in the morning.
We've wired in 85% of the cables that run through the machine and back into the switchboard panels. They'll be completed tomorrow.
Everyone on duty today was in top form, full of good energy, which made for a great atmosphere to work in.
We have some important visitors this week to check on our progress, so we wanted to start Monday ahead of the game.
And we've done just that.
3 weeks to go till Project Med-Con delivery.
Woo hoo! It looks like a machine, almost.
It's all hands on deck as we complete the wiring and fit-up of the first of three Med-Con mask machines. The parts we collected from the metal finishers last night have been put to good use.
Mechanical and Electrical Teams rolled-up their sleeves, donned masks and mucked in to make excellent progress on our record-breaking machine assembly.
It was challenging at times but clever thinking and good humour won the day. (See photo: they're still smiling, under those Med-Con masks).
Having all services in-house—including mechanical, electrical and controls—is unusual even for an advanced manufacturing firm like Foodmach. But it gives us complete control over our supply chain and means that we can achieve impossible timelines.
Well, we hope so anyway. The hardest part is yet to come. Commissioning the machines (getting them to function) is a whole other story.
For now, Machine 1's first section (the laminator) should be completed this weekend, with the second section's fit-up completed to 75% and wiring completed to 45%.
The machine shop is on standby this weekend for any last-minute electrical part changes that arise. So far it's been all good.
Every department has put maximum effort into the Med-Con mask machines this week, and it shows in the progress of the machine builds.
The electrical panels for Machine 1 have been wired and are now being tested. We're running all servo motors together and testing that the 'start', 'stop', 'ramp up', 'ramp down' and speeds attached to the encoder are true and correct.
There's a cold front running through Australia's southern states and it was 11°C at midday in Echuca today... it's a bit cool for early May, as evidenced in photo.
All remaining parts for Machine 1 and 2 will be back from the zinc platers, Tudor Plating and from Black Oxide Metal Finishers tonight. We have a vehicle driving all around Melbourne collecting them. They'll also pick up the perspex safety guarding for the machines.
A Remote Reporting PC (see photo of its inner workings) has been built in-house by Foodmach IT Manager Antony Carriero. Foodmach Software Engineers will start writing the code for it next week.
This PC will allow Med-Con to access the data from each mask machine and display it on their computers and or mobile devices. We like to make sure our customers can check on their production line from anywhere (even a houseboat, as one customer joked—until we gave it to him).
Work continues over the weekend.
Final fit-up of all 3 sections of the first machine has begun and it's starting to take shape.
See photo: Production Manager, Craig Williams with the work in progress.
Electrical and pneumatic teams have started work on their sections and are progressing well.
Electrical panels being assembled by Kelly in the electrical workshop (see photo).
Completed panels are ready for bench testing tomorrow.
Our software engineers will connect the Allen-Bradley PLC, Kinetix Drives and the HMI (Human-Machine Interface), all from our partners at Rockwell Automation.
After a trial run last week that didn’t go as planned, the AB Kinetix drives hooked up nicely with new firmware and flashed all drives, with no problems. So we’re back on track.
We received the vinyl wrapped electrical enclosures from Signarama Echuca (right). Done and delivered in 24 hours. Thank you, Peter and Team. They always do a fantastic job.
Jason from Centreline Machining came through—again—with a last-minute machining job, hand-delivered at 7pm to the workshop. Top class work, thanks Jason!
One of our fitters (Jack) then welded the part to another assembly (right) and it was put into a Foodmach vehicle ready to drive to Black Oxide Metal Finishers early tomorrow morning.
A bit of excitement in the workshop today.
We got one of the chain conveyors on the third section trial fitted and running (albeit powered by a cordless drill).
This proved the success of the design changes made over the past few days. There were smiles all around as we got the tape guillotines (the tape cutters) working.
More parts went to and came back from the coating processors. We even roped in the COO to collect items from the zinc platers.
Assembly continues at a lightning pace. We had some vinyl-wrap branding applied to the electrical cabinet doors so that assembly is not held up later in the week.
We’re hoping to have the first machine completely assembled within 7 days.
It's alive!! Want to see our first sneak peek of mask machine action?
So what’s happening over at Med-Con while they wait for their new machines?
The Australian Defence Force has finished its great work helping Med-Con to increase capacity fourfold within 6 weeks. They pulled apart and modelled a broken mask machine (so that we could use the 3D models for Project Med-Con)—and got it operational again within 2 weeks. Photo credit (below right): Australian Defence Force Magazine.
They also provided Med-Con with extra personnel to help ramp up mask production. Now that Med-Con has hired 21 new staff, the ADF personnel have finished up and Med-Con is now on its own.
And they're very popular. Says Ray Stockwell, Operations Manager of Med-Con:
'We’ve been approached by companies that have imported masks from oversees and rejected them. Some masks are apparently not up to standard—with issues such as smell, adverse skin reactions, poor construction and not meeting Australian technical standards.
We’d love to help them with mask supply, but until we receive the extra equipment Foodmach is currently engineering for us, we’re at absolute capacity. Our existing machines are already going 24/7.
This, of course, puts immense pressure on Foodmach to solve the critical shortage. We know they’re working incredibly hard and all the team here at Med-Con are marvelling at their progress. We look forward to the daily updates on their project blog.
In only a matter of weeks, we’ll be able to put three new machines to work and help get quality Australian-manufactured masks in the hands of Australians.'
Way to go, Med-Con. We're behind you 100%.
There were teething issues with one of our trial assemblies, which was a bit of a nuisance.
A small error in one of the drawings meant that 24 rollers had to be re-made.
We’re very grateful to Ben Dwyer of Miltac Solutions. We sent him new drawings for the redesigned component, which he manufactured and supplied by mid-afternoon. This allows us to continue with the trial assembly tomorrow and stay on track. Ben—you’re a champion.
The second section of the first machine is nearly complete, and we collated another batch of parts to go to be coated tomorrow.
And we painted two of the frames for the final section of the machine.
Done. Tomorrow we'll continue with the final assembly.
The trial build for the third section of the Med-Con medical mask machine continued today and is nearing completion.
Big thanks go out to Jason Ford from Centreline Machining for working through the weekend to machine fabricated components to keep us going. Jason has been doing some incredible work on intricate parts for this project.
From the 139 orders for machined parts from external suppliers such as Centreline, Wika, Miltac Solutions, Ford McKernan, MAC Manufacturing and Marand, over 100 have now been received.
Electrical items were taken from the stores to our in-house electrical workshop to start the control cabinet build.
Fabrications for the third section are being completed and prepped for paint tomorrow.
Photos of the Section 3 trial build to come tomorrow.
Are you thinking that this machine-building process seems a bit all over the place?
That's because it is!
So much was achieved in our factory yesterday, that today (Sunday), we gave everyone a day off. It's critical that we manage the fatigue.
See more photos from Saturday. Jason Vandyk, our Med-Con mask machine mentor, joined us to continue test-fitting assemblies—and for our BBQ snag lunch, which was staggered to ensure social distancing.
We’ve bench tested the machine control system, which includes the PLC, servo controllers, servo motor and digital encoder. Communications between these devices have been tested as well as acceleration and positioning control. An area of focus is the recovery of the machine (getting it operational) in the event of an emergency stop.
We’ve also been working on the fitting up of Section 3 of each machine, where we combine the ultrasonic welders with Marand’s tape cutters and servo-controlled stacking.
The machine shop is still making modifications to parts as needed. There’s still a lot of that to come.
More parts returned from Black Oxide Metal Finishers are looking good and ready for assembly.
Detailed 3D drawings of the machines’ safety design have almost been completed and will be ready in a few days.
We're back in the morning for a fresh start on a new week.
28 days and counting.
We are now officially 50% of the way through the project—and on target for completion in 30 days.
Today being Anzac Day, those on duty shared two minutes of silence on the Foodmach driveway early this morning as a mark of respect for the fallen and their families.
Then it was time to go back inside the factory and do what we can to help our current soldiers—front line workers—whose exposure to COVID-19 will continue well beyond our nation’s current flattening of the curve.
We’ve finalised testing and modifying the first section of each Med-Con mask machine—the laminators.
Now we’re fitting up Section 2 of each machine. This is where the laminated textile is pleated, a nose wire is inserted and tape is applied to the top and bottom of the mask with ultrasonic welders, all in one long continuous strip.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. We’ve had to modify some of the frames that support each section, which has then resulted in issues with the servo motor fitting. It feels like it's one step forward and then one and a half steps back, but this experimental part of the process has been built into our delivery timelines.
The team, both in the factory and working from home, are weary from the first 30 days of long shifts, night shifts and little or no time off.
We're nevertheless committed to maintaining the momentum.
Marand Precision Engineering have completed the 12 tape cutters needed for the Med-Con mask machines.
The tape cutters do exactly that—cut the tape that binds the edges of the masks. Brilliant work in every way, completed in just two weeks and hand-delivered. (See photos of Marand Team, right). They've been so good to collaborate with and it's no surprise their blue-chip customer base includes Lockheed Martin and Boeing (not to mention our own Department of Defence). Thanks again, Marand!
We're still going through the trial assembly process, finding more parts that need to be reworked. Jason Vandyk's visit yesterday really filled in some of the gaps and has been essential.
We’ve taken delivery of some components of the ultrasonic welders we’re using for these machines, called ‘horns’ or ‘sonotrodes’. These are titanium sections which fit to the ultrasonic welders. They’re the bits that come into contact with the mask material during the welding process. In ultrasonic machining, a sonotrode is a tool that creates ultrasonic vibrations and applies this vibrational energy to (in this case) the mask textile.
Australia had some good news recently, with a batch of masks arriving from overseas to add to Med-Con's current increased production.
It doesn't take the pressure off, though. And somehow, despite all the ongoing parts modifications, we're still on track for the deadline.
But the team will be working all weekend to keep up.
635 out of the 725 in-house manufactured parts for the mask machines have now been completed. We’re still receiving parts from suppliers.
More frames have been finished in stainless metallic paint.
Today we had a visit from Jason Vandyk, of Vandyk Specialist Engineering, in Warrigal, Victoria.
He was recruited by the federal government to advise us during fabrication of the Med-Con mask machines.
Jason was one of the last people to build and maintain this type of machine (which was last made nearly 40 years ago). He started working on them as a young precision tool-maker.
He was a key contributor to the development of new design drawings in collaboration with the Australian Defence Force.
Jason describes the Med-Con machines as: '… typical Aussie engineering, designed to go forever.'
Well, that's the truth. They're still going strong after four decades—we're just making Med-Con more of them!
Today he said: '(For this project)... you need a company that has enough in-house machining ability and knowledge to make changes on the fly—which is what's happening (due to the reverse engineering required). Foodmach as a team works exceptionally well together.'
He also said that a larger manufacturer may certainly be able to make parts quicker, but in this case, it would be a disadvantage. Faster production of not-quite-right parts would not equal faster machine delivery.
With a nearly 100-strong team, we're not exactly a tiny Aussie manufacturing firm, but it's good to know that sometimes, bigger is not better.
And we're very glad to have Jason's experience to guide us through the 10,000 piece jigsaw that is Project Med-Con.
The first Section 1 (which laminates four layers of material together) is nearing completion and it’s starting to look like the original Med-Con laminator.
We had a visit from AMTIL, who are the Federal Government consultants overseeing the project. Bruno Bello from AMTIL (seen here inspecting the laminator build progress with Foodmach Director, Peter Marks), said:
'There’s a lot of good technology within the business and really great updates that give us a blow by blow account… and a level of confidence in how the project is maturing. I’m extremely happy.'
'Foodmach and Med-Con have the right DNA, attitude and culture that’s required to have a cohesive workforce.'
We think so too. He also pointed out that our culture of working with external key partners, including businesses we compete against, was an exceptional advantage in a project like this. As it happens, teamwork is one of our key values.
Meanwhile, more parts that have been zinc coated and black oxide treated arrived, as did some special parts from Ford McKernan Engineering in Euroa. Roger from Ford McKernan knows the legendary mask machine designer, Joe Carmody and visited Joe’s workshop back in the day.
Roger cold-called us, offering machining services. We asked Ford McKernan to handle a number of milled parts from Section 2 of each mask machine, which they've done an excellent job on, thanks Roger and team!
A Controls Engineer team member was onsite at Med-Con getting more information on controls requirements so that we can finish writing the PLC code.
Roaring progress on the Med-Con mask machines so far.
95% of the parts for the machines are complete, and all electrical drawings are now complete. Sometimes referred to as wiring diagrams, these are technical drawings that provide a visual representation of electrical systems or circuits. They’re used to explain the design to electricians or other workers who will use them to help install or repair the mask machines.
Our software team is 80% of the way through writing the code for the Med-Con mask machines PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).
A PLC is basically an industrial computer that has been adapted to control a manufacturing machine. They’re designed to be rugged enough to withstand rigorous factory use. The original Med-Con machines used pneumatic (or ‘air’) logic controls, so we’re updating that to the latest available tech.
Having said all that, our workshop team felt a bit frustrated at their progress with assembly testing. It was a tough day for them, but hopefully, after a good sleep and a fresh start tomorrow, it'll get a bit easier.
We sent out another batch of parts that we've finished testing to be surface treated. Work on the machine frames continues.
We're now in a critical phase of the Med-Con mask machine project where we test assembly parts as they become available.
Our engineers and fitters need a great degree of agility to ride with the bumps when things don’t quite fit. Quick team meetings are held on the spot to resolve issues and get designs updated for the next batch.
The three machines we're making for Med-Con will be operational in 35, 49 and 63 days from now.
Australia's front line workers will probably have a critical need for masks for some time, so they'll be put into action immediately.
Med-Con have already increased mask production from 2 million units a year to 2 million a month with the help of the Australian Defence Force. The machines we deliver will increase Med-Con's surgical mask production to 50 million a year.
Will it all be enough?
With other suppliers around Australia also ramping up production of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), the situation is at least looking a whole better than it did last month.
Construction of the frames for the three sections of each Med-Con mask machine continues.
More frames have been painted silver and are awaiting final assembly.
Final assembly of the first sections of each machine—the laminators—has commenced.
A recap on what each section does:
The electrical boxes have arrived and are being fitted into the third sections to check for size.
Every time something fits the way it's intended, there's a general sigh of relief. When its business as usual and we're manufacturing packaging automation, we have more time and more precisely-engineered plans to work from. Project Med-Con sees us attempting to achieve in 60 days what would normally take us 6 months, so it's a challenge.
But, we have excellent people with combined engineering experience of several centuries—and they can literally make anything.
We've taken delivery of the ultrasonic welders, which are critical components to attach the edge tapes, nose wire and ties to the body of the Med-Con medical masks.
How do they work? High-frequency ultrasonic acoustic vibrations are locally applied to pieces being bonded—which are held together under pressure—to create a solid-state weld. The vibrations move through the workpiece, creating just enough heat to melt the join area, which bonds together as it cools.
Ultrasonic energy has been used to join thermoplastics for over 70 years. It is frequently chosen when parts are too complex or expensive to be molded in one piece.
Ultrasonic technology for textiles is suitable for professional medical products such as contamination-resistant gowns, masks and other nonwoven fabric items used in hospital settings where pleats and seals must be perfectly executed.
The welders we're using are from Emerson-Branson and are highly energy-efficient.
More assemblies of parts that have returned from Black Oxide Metal Finishers in Melbourne are being put together in the workshop.
A BBQ brunch was held for the team working through the weekend. There's nothing social or relaxing about it when you need to keep >1.5m distance from each other, food breaks are scheduled to maintain that distance and we're running to critical deadlines—so we'll save all that for later.
Parts manufacturing continues. Our machine shop guys are somehow still smiling despite the long hours.
Pre-assembling of all complex assemblies is also still underway. Once checked, they are stripped down and sent for the required surface treatment. Going through this process will ensure a very efficient assembly of the entire batch of three machines.
Which we'll need because we're delivering the first machine in just 37 days!
Today we finalised the design of the safety and machine guarding. This will be a combination of folded polycarbonate, stainless steel covers and state-of-the-art laser safety scanners.
The idea is to ensure the absolute safety of the machine operators whilst giving them and the maintenance team visibility of the machine during operation. We also want to ensure the easiest possible access to the areas of the machine where raw material is replenished.
Workplace safety standards have come a long way since the original Med-Con mask machine was designed. Part of our challenge on this project has been to make safety upgrades throughout the entire 3-stage automation process of creating Australia's highest-quality surgical masks.
Safety standards are just one reason why imported equipment can create issues—and probably a big part of the decision to make mask machines locally instead of bringing them in from overseas.
Final assembly of the first Med-Con mask machine laminator is underway.
Note the nice black oxide finish on parts of the assemblies (right), done by Black Oxide Metal Finishing in Melbourne, which will protect them against friction damage and corrosion.
We use a labelling system to track items through the operation. With over 10,000 items required for three machines—from bearings to transmissions and pneumatics—we certainly have a need to track them.
The labels are generated by our Engineer-To-Order system (Total ETO) for both in-house manufactured parts and purchased items. Labels contain all relevant information about the part so that our Stores guys can make up kits for each section of the machine and our fitters can identify the parts at assembly.
These kits can be issued to our fitters as soon as all parts are available to complete the assembly—no searching for parts in our factory!
Yellow stickers are added to show that the item is for Project Med-Con, which helps to prioritise them through the shop. We have other urgent COVID-related projects for Australian manufacturers on the go as well, using any resources we don't currently need for Project Med-Con.
To date, 68% of in house manufactured parts for the mask machines are complete. The shelves in the Stores are filling up with parts ready for the next stage.
Some parts for the Med-Con machines were delivered today by Ben Dwyer from Miltac Solutions.
According to Ben, the Mazak machine that was used to manufacture these parts has an interesting history. It was bought from Joe Carmody, local Victorian engineering legend and the original designer of the Med-Con machines.
And! It turns out that some of the parts on the original Med-Con mask making machines were also manufactured on this Mazak.
An amazing coincidence? One that seems perfectly fitting.
Joe Carmody invented the unique Med-Con mask machine in 1982, almost 40 years ago. His design produces such high-quality masks that Med-Con has maintained a market share for medical masks in Australia—despite the flood of cheaper imports.
Joe made his first machine for a business in Shepparton and a second for its parent company in Finland. His business, Carmody Specialist Engineering Pty Ltd, was a founding partner of Med-Con in 1989, which is 100% Australian owned and operated to this day—just like Foodmach.
As engineers, we appreciate the ingenuity of Joe Carmody's engineering. He truly is a legend.
And our thanks, Miltac and Ben Dwyer, for the excellent work.
Meanwhile, our own excellent machine shop continues its hard work—still doing 12.5 hours shifts on rotation. Temperature checks at the gate continue but so far, everyone's okay.
Trial assemblies of the Med-Con mask machines are still taking place to iron out any fitting issues.
The first 'Section 3' frame was completed through fabrication today. The trial fit up starts tomorrow.
There are three sections to each mask machine we're making for Med-Con:
The laminator frames were painted today (see right, below).
Over 60% of the in-house manufactured parts are now complete, and our first batch of parts to get zinc coated and black oxide treated left the machine shop.
Today we did some trial builds of a few sub-assemblies to check the design and manufacture of component parts—before we send them out to be surface treated.
The component parts in question will be finished with a black oxide coating, which offers mild corrosion resistance and reduces friction.
Black oxide coating is produced by the chemical reaction between the iron on the surface of ferrous metal and an oxidising solution. The best part about it that it doesn't add a layer to the mechanical parts, and therefore parts can be machined to finished size prior to coating. They'll fit together exactly the same way they did today.
We booked a large number of completed parts into the stores today. We've now completed over 55% of the in house manufactured parts, and expect to reach 60% overnight.
Here's kind of what the black oxide coating process looks like (you get the idea!)
Today is our team's only day off from the Med-Con project for some time, so there's no machine build progress to report on.
Instead, we thought we'd share a message we received on our Facebook page from Mr Richard Hart of NSW about the historical building that makes up part of our 6,600 square metres of manufacturing space:
'Late last year I gave a presentation to the guides at the Australian War Memorial on Australian industry during the Second World War. Among other things, I told the story of the Echuca bearing plant, which produced precision aero-engine and marine diesel bearing sets as part of the war-winning effort.
I had no idea that, just a few months later, your little river town would again be using its industrial gumption in another world war. Your grandfathers and great grandfathers would be proud of you.
Godspeed to you, and win this war like your ancestors won the last one!'
Thank you, Richard! It does feel like we're on a critical national mission, and we're mindful of the huge responsibility.
As Richard, pointed out, it’s not the first time our factory in regional Victoria has been a part of an effort to aid the front line in a monumental battle to save lives. Our communications team is actually in the process of doing a bit of research on the topic and we'd love to hear from anyone with information.
What we do know is this: In June 1942, the United Bearing Corporation Pty. Ltd. (UBCO) Echuca plant was built by the Australian Government. UBCO employed 150 staff and played an integral part in the production of World War II defence needs in the area of mechanised transport. It was the only factory of its kind in Australia at the time to manufacture single row ball bearings and tapered roller bearings.
Watch this space for more about the rich history of our factory.
The assembly team is making good progress with the frames for the Med-Con medical mask machines. The machine shop continues its 12.5 hours night and day shifts.
Doing long hours can be both a physical and mental health risk for staff. So how are we managing this?
Apart from all the physical protection we’ve implemented in our factory: temperature checks, daily health check questionnaires, social distancing, hand washing reminders and extra cleaning etc, we also provide external mental health support through a corporate health provider, SMG Health.
All our team members can make an anonymous phone call, email or engage in web chats to obtain support for any aspect of their life, be it mental health, financial or physical health-related—and at any time day or night. Despite working towards gender parity in our organisation, we still have a male-dominated workplace. Social distancing makes discussing personal issues even harder, so it’s important that we give all our employees equal opportunity to get the support they need.
We've got a network of great Australian suppliers and we're not afraid to use it!
Today we collected the first batch of special parts for the Med-Con medical mask machines from MAC Manufacturing in Melbourne.
MAC are specialists in precision component manufacturing and they do meticulous work. Our machining department is handling the bulk of the parts manufacturing admirably, but everyone's already working longer hours than we'd prefer.
Outsourcing to other Australian manufacturers seems a sensible move. Projects like this require teamwork on a national scale.
The laminator frames for all three Med-Con medical mask machines have almost been completed by our Fabrication Team and will be painted on Tuesday.
Everyone's very ready for a break on Easter Sunday.
Two weeks down, six to go... we're now 25% of the way there.
Another big day working on the first of the Med-Con mask machines, with lots of parts and materials arriving at our Echuca factory.
The machine shop is now working a 25hr day?! — 2 x 12.5hr shifts to allow for a 30min handover.
Our factory will be running Good Friday, Saturday and Easter Monday.
On Easter Sunday, we'll close to manage our team's fatigue and give everyone some downtime/family time.
The Engineering Design department’s role is ongoing. Working remotely, they're now going over the 3D models and re-assembling all the parts in a manner that best supports machine building. They're simultaneously checking the assemblies for any issues.
We've received wonderful support and encouragement on social media, which is being shared with the whole team. It helps to keep us going throughout the long nights, so thank you—your words are very much appreciated.
'It's amazing what can be achieved when a common goal is at hand. Huge thank you to all your team 💚'
'I don't really know any of you, but am inspired by your efforts. I'm silently cheering for every person who is throwing their energy into this project.'
'Woo!!! I'm excited. In the midst of all the craziness, I enjoy seeing your progress. Keep going!'
'Great work team. I had seen on the news that you guys are working around the clock doing shifts, very inspiring working!!'
'Great job Foodmach. So good to see Australian businesses creating solutions for our frontline workers.'
'Thankyou Foodmach!!! The PPE shortage is a real concern for us.'
'This is amazing, we have the technology, the experience, and the skills to do a lot in our own back yard. Well done Foodmach👍'
The frame for the Med-Con mask machine laminator is near completion.
Lamination is the first part of the surgical mask-making process, where four layers of material are unwound from the big rolls and heat-sealed together.
The surgical masks that will be made by this machine provide a bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) of greater than 99%, and Particulate Filtration Efficiency of greater than 99% of particles that are greater than 0.1 microns.
What does this mean? When securely fitted using the flexible nose wire and loops or ties, these masks provide a high level of respiratory protection—Level 3 if you know your mask filtration scales.
They do all this and provide excellent breathability.
Meanwhile, in the machine shop:
So far, all staff working in the factory are well. Any team members able to do their work from home continue to do just that. Our brilliant IT Manager, Anthony Carriero, made sure the transition of all non-hands-on staff to home offices went without a hitch. In order to keep up the momentum throughout the project, we need to manage risk wherever possible.
Australian Government guidelines on the use of surgical masks
Engineering has now released drawings for all mask machine parts to manufacturing, except the guarding.
The parts manufacturing continues, and the completed parts are being loaded into shelves in the store, ready for assembly.
Today, we were delighted with the work of another Australian engineering firm.
The Med-Con machine uses a device that cuts the tape that binds the edges of the mask. We gave Marand Precision Engineering in Melbourne the go-ahead to machine/assembly two samples of the tape cutter carriages last Friday.
Chris Taylor from Marand (right) hand-delivered them today. Brilliant service!
They'll be building 12 tape cutters for us and delivering them within two weeks.
Aussie manufacturing is alive and well. Thank you, Marand.
We're hitting our stride as materials are delivered and we ramp up production hours.
Machine shop starts working around the clock tomorrow.
So far, everyone is healthy. No one gets past our temperature checks at the gate!
Our hard-working Engineering Team now has released almost 95% of mechanical parts for the Med-Con mask machines.
They worked throughout today (Sunday) from their homes to achieve this end.
One of our engineers spent much of the day working online with a Rockwell Automation global expert in Singapore finalising the servo motor calculations.
Our COO, Suren Moodley, (right) developed a tweak for our ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software which allows us to kit parts to the lowest sub-assemblies level. This means we can start assembling parts earlier. Normally we'd have to wait until we all the parts of a major assembly before we put it together.
So that's a win.
Our engineering designers are still crunching away at the parts for the Med-Con medical mask machines.
Drawings for 90% of the parts have been released from design and the last 10% are being done now. We're aiming to release them from engineering tomorrow, however, the last 10% are the finicky bits that always take longer.
The machine shop continues to churn out parts. Usually, our production process is linear: one department hands over to the next. For this project, we only have 8 weeks to achieve what would normally take 16-20 weeks, so all departments are running simultaneously.
Evidence of the procurement department's hard work is all over the factory and steel parts are piling up on pallets (see right) ready for painting. The dark blue covering is an anti-corrosion protection put on at the mill which we spray with isocyanate-free two pack topcoat. Isocyanate is a bit of a toxic organic compound that we prefer to limit our staff exposure to.
Our CEO was in an extra good mood today. He must be happy with our progress :)
We had a design review with an engineer from the original Med-Con machine builder to validate the changes we’ve made to the new medical mask machines, ensuring they won’t negatively impact on performance.
He was happy with our alterations. He pointed out a few areas where we need to be extra aware of the complexity but made no changes to our changes.
The replacement control system design for the Med-Con medical mask machine was completed today.
The original Med-Con machine had a pneumatic logic control system (see photo, right). We're completely updating it to the latest available technology with full machine diagnostics via an LCD interface.
Otherwise known as 'air logic controls', pneumatic logics are a reliable and functional control method for industrial processes. Pneumatic refers to the conversion of compressed air into mechanical work. In recent years, they've largely been replaced by electronic control systems for this kind of application. Digital controls are smaller, cost less, offer greater precision and more powerful features.
We've also decided to replace a common motor and mechanical drives. Their function is to:
They'll be replaced by three independent servo motors which are being sized tonight.
That was a massive first week on Project Med-Con. No relaxing though... most of us are working through the weekend.
We had a slight set back today with one of the engineering design assemblies we'll need to build Med-Con's medical mask machines, which took time to resolve.
The day well and truly redeemed itself thanks to the hard work of the engineering department, which is steaming ahead with the detailed designs for parts. They've managed to complete 60% of them so far.
The machine shop is producing their usual top quality product—see evidence (right).
Management is putting together plans for ramping up the factory floor to 24/7 operation. Lots of raw materials are starting to arrive. Procurement has been busy contacting suppliers for mechanical components.
The coffee machine is getting lots of love at the moment. And lots of cleaning. Our factory hasn't been so disinfected in living memory.
Some long hours are being done by management, engineering and procurement.
Manufacturing department still gets to sleep when the sun goes down. Enjoy it while you can, people!
The Australian Defence Force did an amazing job disassembling, modelling and re-assembling the original Med-Con machine in a couple of days.
Foodmach engineers are checking the more complex assemblies in our 3D software for interfering parts, hole alignments etc. Time spent now will minimise rework later.
Our Echuca Engineering Department is running on all cylinders. Everyone is stopped at the gate in their vehicle for temperature checks—any time day or night (because we're working shifts). No exceptions!
So far, all staff are on board. Fingers crossed.
See the Project Med-Con breaking news in Food & Drink Business
The cat's out of the bag. A Med-Con/Foodmach story appeared in the Shepparton News advising they've commissioned us to build 3 new surgical mask manufacturing machines. First one due in 8 weeks.
So now it's public knowledge. No pressure!
Photo caption: Exactly 1.5m between each team member at our control / electrical design review. #SocialDistancing
CEO and COO arrived by road from Brisbane intact. Design review and first components released to manufacture.
It's just the mainframe of one section, but it's a great start given it's before noon on the first business day after project approval.
Some key decisions made today on what’s being modernised. We knew the pneumatic logic had to be replaced with a PLC and safety up to current standards. We'll also replace a number of the linked and cam-controlled motion with servo motors, as well as the timing and temperature control in the PLC.
Key team members made another visit to Med-Con to get familiar with the original mask machine.
Two of the three machine sections have had the Bill of Manufacturing (BOM) structure validated and detailing is underway.
Our CEO and COO have been working remotely from their homes in Brisbane until now, but we need them on-site for the next few months. No airports allowed though—we need to keep our factory COVID-free. So it's going to be an early start and a long drive for them!
CEO kept us entertained with his tweets.
Our engineering team is on-site at Med-Con for a handover of drawings and a design review with the Australian Defence Force engineers.
The ADF engineers disassembled and modelled a Med-Con machine, over a single weekend. Amazing achievement for such a complex piece of equipment. Even though these 3D models are invaluable, they still need to be detailed on a part by part basis, all materials identified and checks made that they’ll assembly correctly.
Our engineers are heading back to Echuca to upload the model. They'll work tonight and throughout the rest of the weekend on the BOM (Bill of Materials) structure and detailing. A BOM is a list of the raw materials, sub-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, parts, and the quantities of each needed to manufacture an end product.
Med-Con is Australia's only surgical mask manufacturer. Tasked by the Australian Government to increase production from 2 million to 50 million masks per year, they urgently need more equipment.
With assistance from the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Industry, Science and Technology, one of their 40-year old machines was pulled apart and modelled. Several engineering firms are being assessed for competency, including Foodmach. So far we've had a visit from DIST, we've looked at the models and provided an execution plan. Today we were visited by the Med-Con project manager.
And we received word that Foodmach has won the bid. It's all systems go!