Interview: How Irema responded to the pandemic
We sat down with our Managing Director, John Rice for a quick chat to discuss the transformation to the business since the onset of Covid-19, the Irema pandemic response and the prospects for the future.
Q: Can you please give us some background on Irema Ireland prior to the outbreak of Covid-19?
“Irema Ireland has been in existence since 1985 when the company was set up to manufacture surgical face masks for the European healthcare market. The company also developed its own meltblown media manufacturing capability and so became the first fully integrated manufacturer of both the critical filtration component and the face mask itself. In 2009 the company opened a second manufacturing site in Thailand to expand the face mask portfolio and in 2016 we added respirator production. At the outbreak of Covid-19, Irema was one of the few companies still manufacturing surgical face masks in Europe.”
Q: How many people did you employ in Ireland and what was your output capacity?
“We employed 44 people producing 36 million surgical face masks and 1.2 million respirator masks per annum under both our Facemate brand and as a contract manufacturer.”
Q: With the Covid-19 outbreak how did you respond to meet the market demands?
“The first action was to employ extra people and maximise existing production capacity by moving to a 24×7 working week. Once this was achieved, we then invested in additional production lines for both the surgical and respirator products which quickly provided the extra capacity we needed to meet demands. The fact that we manufacture our own meltblown media inhouse was a major advantage in increasing capacity so rapidly. This vital component was and continues to be in very short supply worldwide but this did not affect us.”
Q: What change did you see in the employment numbers and output capacity?
“Employment increased to 180 people and output capacity is now over 200 million surgical face masks and 28 million FFP2/FFP3/N95 respirators.”
Q: That is some achievement in such a short time frame. What do you attribute the key factors in delivering such growth?
“Firstly, we have been producing these products for over 35 years so our knowledge and expertise certainly played a vital part. In addition, our employees worked tirelessly to ensure that we played our part to ensure that frontline workers had the necessary face masks or respirator PPE to work safely. And finally, the long-term relationships we have with our suppliers and our own meltblown media production ensured availability and continuity of supply.”
Q: What is your business outlook post Covid-19?
“There are a number of factors that makes me optimistic for the business going forward. Firstly, there is now a heightened awareness of the benefits of using face masks to combat the spread of disease. Second, the introduction of the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) in May 2021 will increase the regulation of face mask products in all EU markets which will bring benefit to trusted and accredited manufacturers like Irema.”
Q: How does the market look post pandemic?
“In order to mitigate the business risk and disruption that caused such shortages when this pandemic broke out, medical, healthcare and other large users are now focusing on future proofing their supply chains by establishing secure sourcing partnerships with trusted manufacturers like Irema.”