The true mark of a market leader is the ability to feel the pulse of change and be ready for new challenges. The same is true for Intertek, which has over time, established its reputation as a progressive company that delivers innovative and bespoke Assurance, Testing, Inspection and Certification solutions to customers and their supply chain. With a network of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices in more than 100 countries, Intertek has a global presence that allows it to offer seamless solutions at various destinations with perfect synergy and commitment.
Though the fashion industry has always been a very dynamic industry to work in, the pandemic, which has changed the world and its priorities for ever – bringing to limelight the importance of safety, hygiene and digital connectivity in all industries – has heightened the complexity of the industry. While companies working in the fashion industry are struggling to find their footing in the ‘New Normal’, Intertek is finding success with its proactive approach and initiatives.
Sandeep Das, Regional Managing Director – South Asia at Intertek, shares with Apparel Resources how the company has not only geared up, but in fact grabbed opportunities in the PPE industry and become a force to reckon with, placing it as a preferred service provider amongst its competitors for the still developing PPE industry. Excerpts from the interview…
AR: Why do you feel that the PPE industry is here to stay?
Sandeep: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an increased awareness amongst public for health, hygiene and other environmental pollution impacts, ultimately making use of PPE as a necessity – this will be the new normal. As the cases of communicable diseases like SARS, NIPAH, Ebola and COVID-19 are on the increase with several mutations, there could be new waves, big and small, created across all age groups. This brings the social and regulatory responsibility for all industry segments to come up with solutions to protect the public from Biological / Communicable hazards.
AR: The garment industry is still very clueless of how-to set-up a PPE unit; how will Intertek handhold the industry through the process?
Sandeep: With Intertek’s strong presence in the region and technical expertise, we support manufacturers in understanding the requirements of PPE, from the sourcing of right raw materials, designing and development of compliant products, specific to various regulatory markets as well as end consumers’ expectations.
Also, Governments in countries like India support manufacturers with different Center of Excellences (COEs) across the country, by training and developing manufacturers and encouraging them to establish the right manufacturing set-ups required to cater to market needs.
AR: Is there clarity about PPE standards amongst users and manufacturers?
Sandeep: Since, the need of medical PPE for general public gained importance mainly post COVID-19 pandemic, the desired clarity on various PPE standards is yet to be attained amongst most of the garment manufacturers who entered this segment. The core manufacturers of PPE comparatively have better knowledge because they are supposed to have in-house lab facility and hence, the understanding about the standards becomes a part of their business.
As the PPE standards are vast and varying, based on destination markets, as well as multiple product categorisation, it requires professional guidance right through the process. Here, Intertek COEs support through various communication channels like open to all webinars, customised sessions, programmes like mask labels, etc. We have already associated with AEPC for multiple sessions in India, PPE manufacturers in Bangladesh for bringing awareness.
AR: Is there any difference in PPE testing norms for Western markets and Asian markets and how is Intertek Center of Excellence (COE) supporting customers to comply with these standards?
Sandeep: In PPE testing norms, all the major regulatory standards of West and Asian markets are designed to help the industry provide right protection for the users, based on intended use of products, from regular use to intensive surgical applications.
Though the South Asian regulatory standards and protocols are largely aligned with EU and US, there are some differences introduced, in accordance with local conditions; for example EN 14683-2014 and IS 16289-2019 are the standards for surgical masks for EU and India, respectively. The standard requirements for these tests are mostly common but there exist some differentiating factors, based on the local market experiences. However, both the standards aim to limit the transmission of infective agents.
The Intertek PPE Center of Excellence in India and Bangladesh are some of the largest facilities in the region. These have fully equipped laboratories which are capable of servicing surgical masks and gowns, community masks, respirators, gloves and so on. These labs have three major sections – Physical testing, Microbiological testing and Respirator Testing, housing all amenities to ensure it meets the regulatory and quality assurance requirements of manufacturers across the region.
It is important to note that the test standards for coveralls /Surgical Gowns from US/EU/India/Bangladesh have different levels of compliance with different specifications. The test standards are well defined to meet exact requirements depending on the end uses of the product. Here’s the role of Intertek expertise. We keep the manufacturers aware of the standards and specifications; hence the Market Access strategies specific to products can be pursued by the manufacturers.
AR: How equipped is Intertek to evolve with the growing needs of the PPE market? What are the initiatives by the Intertek local and global teams in this direction?
Sandeep: As pandemic grappled the world and need for PPE emerged, Intertek was quickly in action mode – to set up a strong PPE COE network across the world covering the USA, UK, India, China, Hongkong, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Singapore, and Guatemala to cater to the PPE industry’s QA needs.
We have set up a vertical team with Total Quality Assurance (TQA) expertise for PPE, which comprises global experts spanning members of various International and National Standards committee members. Currently, Intertek operates one of the largest PPE COE networks with capabilities to provide ATIC services for all kinds of PPE products.
AR: Quality assurance is a standard protocol for any manufacturer that is using workers. Are there any quality inspectors on duty from your side for this particular category?
Sandeep: Intertek in India and Bangladesh are servicing the PPE industry right from its inception, in April 2020. We are the only service provider who served and assured the quality of the PPE products through inspections since April 2020 till date, even during lockdown situations. You will be glad to know that we have qualified inspectors across the region to support PPE manufacturers, to assure the quality through production, final random inspection, container stuffing and testing, all with support of our PPE COE.
AR: Tell us a bit about the Lab in Gurgaon that is specific to PPE?
Sandeep: The Intertek India PPE COE in Gurgaon is one of our largest facilities in the country providing end-to-end end ATIC solutions to PPE industry under one roof such as Testing, Inspections, Assurance Solutions and Certifications.
With a fully accredited laboratory, Intertek PPE COE can act as a one-stop shop for the PPE Industry as this lab can serve surgical masks and gowns, community masks, respirators, gloves and so on. The lab has three major sections – Physical Testing, Microbiological Testing, and Respirator Testing, equipped with state-of-the-art, high precision equipment and infrastructure, housing all amenities, to ensure that it meets the regulatory and quality assurance requirements of manufacturers across India.
AR: Are there any other third-party labs offering PPE testing…if yes, how is Intertek different than other such third-party labs in the segment?
Sandeep: Intertek operates one of the largest integrated networks of PPE COE with a global vertical TQA backbone covering USA, UK, India, China, Hongkong, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Singapore, and Guatemala to cater the PPE industry’s ATIC needs. That differentiates Intertek as this business is going global for any manufacturers and that benefits manufacturer more than going to a local or regional third-party lab. We have set up a vertical team with Total Quality Assurance (TQA) expertise for PPE, which comprises global experts, spanning members of various International and National Standards committee members.
Now Intertek has an extensive PPE COE network with capabilities to provide ATIC services for all kinds of PPE products, as we provide bespoke solutions, leveraging our strong PPE COE expertise and Global network.
AR: When India has Government funded labs, why should industry use third party services?
Sandeep: The Intertek COE is attracting manufacturers because of ease of communication, dedicated customer services, one-stop-shop facility, faster deliveries, knowledge sharing, bespoke solutions, benefit of a global network, value-added services like ‘Mask Label Program’ which helps manufacturers establish their credentials with buyers.
We ensure that quality PPE products reach users across the country and are exported across the globe in accordance with local and global regulatory requirements and fulfil the quality agenda of manufacturers. Our assurance services include Global market assess, advisory, training, design review/regulatory guidance, FDA consultancy and much more.
AR: Who is assuring quality at the manufacturer’s location? We have seen HLL stopped taking faulty PPE from the manufacturers last year. But how is it being ensured now?
Sandeep: It is sole responsibility of manufacturers to ensure quality of their products based on intended end use/markets, etc., following the applicable standards with Internal Quality control and collaboration with Third party labs like Intertek PPE COE.
The beginning of the pandemic brought urgent requirement of scaling up of medical PPE production – many garment manufacturers entered this new and niche segment, resulting in initial challenges with respect to right sourcing of raw material and finished product compliance. They were helped by Government associated bodies as the third-party labs were yet to set up competent and accredited facilities. Over time, the manufacturers have gained required know-how with the help of labs like Intertek PPE COE and started using its facilities to ensure TQA across their manufacturing supply chain.