By Holger Dielenberg
When Lockdown#1 hit, we asked our ourselves how can we put our prototyping technology and design smarts to good use?
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed Australia’s supply chain vulnerability. In an effort to build national sovereignty for health PPE and reduce the nation’s reliance on overseas manufactured imports, we decided to seize the moment to conceive, design and manufacture health PPE in Australia.
The Federal Government asked us to quote for five million face shields for Commonwealth hospital staff. But when we looked at the proximity of kids in schools and human crowds in supermarkets, it was obvious that we all should wear PPE.
In Lockdown#2, Melbourne’s mandatory wearing of face masks has proven this to be the case. Space Tank’s Australia-wide supply of face shields now helps thousands of individuals in all occupations to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In a space of two months we have supplied over 12,000 face shields to retailers, businesses and health practitioners around Australia and we are now being swamped with orders. We are currently manufacturing 1,000 per day inhouse at Space Tank, but demand is accelerating so fast that by the end of the month we will flip to our mass manufacturing partner in Broadmeadows to produce up to 18,000 per day.
The ability to scale according to demand was a part of our design process. We placed importance on human centred design to get the fit and function right, but it was equally important for us to solve supply chain issues while still remaining competitive against overseas imports.
Our co-design process involved major collaboration partner, Steve Zanon founder of Proactive Ageing. Steve leveraged his vast Assistive Technology Network in Melbourne’s North and provided the vital clinical knowledge and approval fast tracking that we needed to bring the Rapid Shield product to life. We had a limited time frame to get the design from concept to customer. Steve supported this project every step of the way and he continues to support to this day.
“Fast-tracking manufacturing to scale meant we urgently needed to orchestrate and put our Assistive Technology ecosystem to work,” Steve says. “Covid-19 exposed Australia’s supply chain vulnerability. But we took this as an opportunity to prove our case that manufacturing and healthcare industries should be working together. Australia needed this shake up and we were ready.”
Space Tank also collaborated with Roland Gesthuizen who led a ‘brains trust’ of STEM educators and professors. They sourced up to date information on health PPE and provided links to medical staff from Monash Health, Government contacts and secured leads for supply of PET plastic. Their research on supply and demand of PPE in the Australian context of the pandemic was really helpful.
By word of mouth alone, Rapid Shield is now being used by Tiffany & Co luxury jewellery stores, Salvation Army Australia feeding the homeless, Bakers Delight, Channel Ten’s The Project, the Australian Tax Office, Schools, GP’s, Aged Care and Disability services, major fashion retailers and more.
Supply started when Steve leveraged the abundant goodwill he’d generated in the Assistive Technology Network. Northern Health’s Professor Don Campbell opened doors to clinicians for testing and market leads. This led to our first major contract with cosmetics retailer, MECCA Cosmetica, to supply 3,200 Rapid Shields across the Australian and New Zealand franchise. We owe MECCA a mountain of gratitude, they’ve really been amazing brand ambassadors for us.
Fast forward two months – We saw a 20-fold increase in orders when Lockdown#2 was announced, and demand has increased steadily by around 20% per week. The biggest orders are coming from schools, large medical clinics like Niddrie Medical Centre, and fashion retailers like Gazman. In just two months we’ve supplied over 12,000 Rapid Shields to organisations outside Government channels.
Wearing Australian made health PPE is a measure of respect and sends a positive message to consumers. Many retailers are also adopting virus safety responsibilities and Rapid Shield is quickly becoming an Australian harbinger of health decorum.
Our feedback shows people feel proud to wear our face shields knowing that they’re designed and manufactured locally. Rapid Shield’s clean lines and sharp design aesthetic looks stylish. It’s becoming the face shield of choice with staff at major fashion and cosmetics retailers, but also in other occupations such as construction, food processing and in crowded office environments.