- More than 232,000 employees worldwide need masks for their daily work
- Hanover-Stöcken is supplying all of the technology company’s European sites
- Production of about 80,000 surgical masks (type IIR, highest European standard) each day
- “Unprecedented teamwork”: the production of masks was set up within a very short space of time
Hanover, September 10, 2020. It took just a few months for Continental to get the professional production of medical masks up and running at the Stöcken location, where 80,000 IIR masks can now be manufactured each day. These are surgical masks also worn by medical personnel, for example in operating rooms. The need for high-quality protective masks is high. The technology company employs more than 232,000 people worldwide in 59 countries and markets, and they all need masks to perform their daily work during this pandemic. Protective masks are the key component of Continental’s strict global hygiene concept. “The protection and health of our employees is paramount for us, as it was even before the coronavirus pandemic. They are provided with the most suitable protective equipment. And we are reconfiguring our processes and systems to minimize the risk of infection,” said Dr. Christian Feldhaus, head of Corporate Safety & Health, highlighting the massive responsibility the company bears as a globally active employer in times of a pandemic. Stöcken is one of three production sites where masks are being manufactured, alongside Shanghai in China and Winchester in the US state of Virginia. The German location in Lower Saxony thus plays a crucial role in supplying employees at all of Continental’s European locations with the masks they so urgently need.
From automotive company to mask manufacturer in just over four months
How does a global automotive company become a manufacturer of medical products in such a short space of time? With “unprecedented teamwork,” explained Eike-Christian Schmid, who is responsible for the rapid and somewhat unusual expansion of the product portfolio at the Stöcken location. “We started from scratch in April,” Schmid said. “Nobody knew how to manufacture protective masks. It’s remarkable, looking back, how we amassed the knowledge, how we pulled together across multiple business units to make this happen.” Manufacturing medical masks is indeed a complex undertaking: acquiring a production facility for masks; setting up a clinically clean working environment; concluding contracts with materials suppliers; considering logistics and distribution factors; and last but not least, dealing with medical regulations and the trade supervisory board.
But the commitment by all involved in difficult times such as these – short-time work, working from home, uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus crisis – has paid off. Stöcken normally manufactures heavy-duty production equipment for tire plants at its in-house machinery plant, Conti Machinery. In addition, the semifinished goods plant produces the rubber composites that are needed to manufacture tires. Now, however, protective masks are being produced in Building 45 as well. A room-in-room solution was installed for this purpose in one of the halls. In this 120-square-meter production space, a secure airlock system for employees and materials, together with a ventilation system with five-fold air exchange, ensure that the masks are produced to the highest quality standards. Since the end of August, some 80 masks have been produced per minute, totaling around 80,000 masks a day. Continental has opted for the IIR mask type (highest European standard), which is better than other mask types in terms of breathability and bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE). This particular version filters out > 98% of all possible bacteria and viruses from the exhaled air, thus ensuring the individual and collective protection of all employees. FFP masks, for example, are intended chiefly for personal protection, since they filter primarily the inhaled air.
A dozen employees who normally work as plant engineers, metalworkers and logisticians have been retrained and are now working on mask production in three-shift operation. As project lead, Eike-Christian Schmid also had to get to grips with a completely new field of activity for his new role. He is actually a design engineer for tire building machines. But he was delighted to take on the unusual task, despite the huge time pressure it involved and the new challenges that arise every day. “The masks from Stöcken are helping to protect the safety of all Continental employees throughout Europe,” said Schmid. “That’s a great feeling.”