On-shoring the supply chain

Ensign’s high-quality sanitiser achieved TGA certification.

Essity Australasia collaborates with local suppliers against COVID with a little help.

Secure and responsive local manufacturers now have a competitive advantage over international imports in the wake of increased tariffs, shipping delays and global uncertainty. Local manufacturer Essity Australasia, has been tackling the issue of onshoring supply chains as a result of the COVID pandemic, pivoting to local suppliers. 

Essity had already responded to earlier pandemic-related disruption by installing an in-house 3D printing station at their Springvale facility when the ability to reliably import spare machine parts from Switzerland ground to a halt.

After observing the demand for hospital-grade hand sanitiser, they embarked on an ambitious strategy via global brand Tork to fully develop a local supply chain for sanitiser and its accessories, including dispenser bottles and stands.

“At the start of COVID, our sanitiser and bottles were produced in Sweden and the stands in the US,” said Matthew Arblaster, Essity’s operations manager at Springvale. “One of the first things we saw at the start of the pandemic was severe supply chain constraints for sanitiser.”

Indeed, a major sanitiser supplier in the UK successfully cited “force majeure” as supply was commandeered for local use.

“We recognised that the majority of sales were through dispensers mounted on walls or stands,” said Robin Craigie, marketing manager (Washroom) for Tork. “However, it required a specific bottle which collapses as it dispenses the sanitiser, which is a technically challenging project – not an item you can buy off your average retail shelf.” 

In collaboration with Quality Blow Moulders based in Dandenong South, the mould was developed at a pace which astounded their European colleagues. “They said it couldn’t be done within our six-month target timeframe,” said Robin. “Seeing the first bottles come off the line, we were all congratulating each other.” 

In order to supply hospitals and health care facilities with medical-grade sanitiser, their product required certification from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Ensign Laboratories were a natural fit; based in Mulgrave and geographically close to the Essity facility, they rapidly developed a high-quality sanitiser which achieved TGA certification.

The final step was born out of a need for hand sanitiser in locations not usually found outside the washroom; entryways, doorways, counters, and registers. “Pre pandemic, you could import over-engineered stands out of Europe, or poor-quality ones from elsewhere,” said Robin.  

Essity reached out to the South East Melbourne Manufacturers’ Alliance (SEMMA) to be connected with local metal fabricators who could assist. Hilton Manufacturing, located in Dandenong South, ultimately supplied the stands. 

Tork recognised that the majority of sales were through dispensers mounted on walls or stands. 

“Todd and the Hilton team were fantastic to work with, they were responsive and had a sense of urgency,”said Robin. 

Now, in addition to supplying the local market, the all-in-one sanitiser, collapsible bottle, and portable stand are exported to regions still experiencing COVID restraints, such as the Middle east and Latin America. 

“We’re pretty busy; I work for a company supplying toilet paper and sanitiser during a pandemic,” said Robin. “The project came together because of our hard work and the support of all our local partners, it was a great way to end 2020.” 

While the pandemic may have brought business closer to home out of necessity, there has been an observable shift in preference for locally made and supplied products with many organisations remaining with their newfound local partners.  

The versatility of local manufacturers during COVID has been recognised by SEMMA, with many businesses adopting new technologies or strategies which have helped to diversity their business and secure their supply chains, either by bringing them closer to home or in-house where possible.  

President of SEMMA, Peter Angelico, said, “Manufacturing drives considerable benefits to the Australian economy – employment, productivity, self-sufficiency and innovation. Australian manufacturers invest heavily in equipment, technology, workplace safety, industrial relations partnerships, and remuneration for their skilled workforce. We choose to do these things because we value quality, innovation and most importantly, our people. 

Beverly Witherby is the communications manager of SEMMA. For all membership enquiries, she can be reached at beverly@semma.com.au.

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