An unprecedented rise in the COVID-19 pandemic has put the lives of healthcare workers working in points of entries (POEs), quarantine centres, hospitals and laboratories at high risk. It is seen that some of these frontline warriors are suffering all across the world, including India, due to large-scale unavailability of PPE, majorly body coveralls, or even if they have it, it is not made according to standards; therefore it has not been able to safeguard the health of workers by minimising the exposure to a biological agent.
To produce it, the industry needs to understand what a body coverall is, especially in the COVID-19 case. According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, coveralls typically provide 360-degree protection because they are designed to cover the whole body including back and lower legs and sometimes head and feet as well.
The design of medical/isolation suits does not provide continuous whole-body protection, for example possible openings in the back, coverage to the mid-calf only. By using appropriate protective clothing, it is possible to create a barrier to eliminate or reduce contact and droplet exposure, both known to transmit COVID-19, thus protecting healthcare workers working in close proximity (within 1 metre) of suspect/confirmed Coronavirus cases or their secretions.
The requirement of these body coveralls suddenly peaked up which was not anticipated, and initially, the industry found it a critical affair to produce right type of body coveralls in huge volumes. However, the Indian Government, in collaboration with industry’s bigwigs, has been taking all the necessary measures to ensure the supplies shall be made with right quality of the product at the right time.
To ensure manufacturing of body suits at required level of quality, there are three factors which should be addressed for selection of body coveralls – fabric and its properties, garment assembly and associated technology infrastructure, and lastly sterilisation and safe disposal. The fabric must resist penetration of the virus through its type and coating or lamination, the design of coverall should be such which minimises the risk of penetration through seams and closures, and sterilisation must ensure that no infection should spread because of an already infected garment.
When it comes to fabric, the manufacturers must comply for ISO 16603 and ASTM F 1670 standards which are the major standards for body coveralls in India. The fabrics made and tested under these standards are resistant to synthetic blood penetration. “These are the classes approved by the WHO, and Class C is approved in India under which these standards fall. There are other Classes as well, including Classes 4, 5 and 6,” Ashish Vaidya, MD (Business Development), Pioneer Hygiene, Gujarat (India), informed Apparel Resources. It’s worth mentioning here that Pioneer Hygiene, a unit of Vikram Nuvotech India Pvt. Ltd., is one of the biggest approved fabric and body suits manufacturers in India.
The company is producing around 80,000 metres of non-woven fabric per day and manufacturing close to 27,000 body suits on the daily basis. These breathable body coveralls are lightweight disposable ones and are laminated with microporous polyurethane film. The pressure in Class 3 type of garments is 3.5 kPa, while Class 6 is the biggest Class in the world and requires to be tested at 20 kPa pressure, which is required for resistance to blood penetration (See Table 1).
“At this pressure, blood will not penetrate fabric or seams and keep the wearer of this suit safe from any infection. Our fabric is passed by SITRA and our suit is passed by DRDO,” stated Ashish, adding, “As the number of doctors in India is around 1.2 million and another one million are their associates which include nurses, hospital staff and ambulance people, Pioneer Hygiene is aiming at safeguarding these people with major focus on ICU doctors.”
|Classification According to ISO 16603 – Screening Test|
|Resistance to Penetration by Blood and Body Fluids using Synthetic Blood|
|Class||Exposure Pressure (kPa)|
According to the guidelines set by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, the fabrication of body coveralls must be done only by sewing/adhesion/thermal/RF welding/ultrasonic welding or combination of techniques followed by application of sealing tape in stitched area. The sealing tape should be hot air adhesive tape made out of suitable material such that the fabricated joint withstands the synthetic blood penetration test and minimum width of the tape should be 16 mm.
Pioneer Hygiene follows all these guidelines as it completely does an overlock stitching to fabricate body suits and then applies hot air seam sealing which, Ashish feels, is the most perfect way to save a person wearing such kind of suits. “It is not easy to open the suit once seam sealing is done, and even if you try to open it, you will tear off the fabric,” asserted Ashish.
One of the biggest challenges India is facing right now is non-availability of seam sealing machines. According to the industry’s experts, India needs at least 500 more machines seeing the soaring production readiness of the manufacturers. This fulfillment of required seam sealing machines is seemingly difficult as India is mainly dependent on China to import these machines.
“PFAFF A303I is what we offer and we have sold all the machines that we had the availability of. PFAFF’s parent company is China-based SG Group and we can still import the machines from there, but they have a long waiting period as they are overbooked with global orders,” shared Neville Turel, Director, EH Turel, a renowned dealer of sewing technology based out of India.
Markedly, PFAFF A303I can produce 10 body coveralls an hour and 80 coveralls in an eight-hour shift. “We also have one multi-purpose machine left which can serve the purpose of body suit manufacturing,” told Neville.
To make coveralls, the industry needs to define challenges they will face right from getting orders to dispatching it. In our conversation with Anshuman Dash, Marketing Director of H&H – a leading welding and bonding technology company, we could draw following challenges which are presenting the current scenario –
1. Lack of understanding of fabric regulations: It’s still a sad state that only a few industry people know what kind of fabrics go in the making of body coverall. If one supplier has been able to pass his fabric, everybody runs after to procure the same kind of fabric and this is where the Indian industry is lacking understanding. They should delve deep into studying the guidelines set by Indian and International authorised agencies.
2. Lack of understanding of tapes: The first target of the manufacturers always remains on booking the order, while in the process, the protocols are being ignored. Body coverall is not a product that can be made using high RPM, and hence, the manufacturer has to give due time to produce such a technical product keeping all manufacturing norms in mind and for this to happen, they need to increase their understanding of accurate tape. People still believe the thickness of tape would work. No! If PP fabric is used, PE tape should be used but people are using tapes made of different kinds of fabrics, which is not the right way. Besides, the manufacturers are not applying stitches precisely, as they think tape would cover stitches so a minor deterioration in quality is okay. But they need to understand if there are wrinkles in stitch, the tape wouldn’t work efficiently.
3. Lack of monitoring from the Government’s side: There is a lot of monitoring of big units being done where the Ministry is directly involved. These factories do have their own strong quality checking team and some of these factories do hold experience in making body coveralls. But, what about MSMEs who might violate the regulations and nobody would know? The manufacturers might tamper with the certificates or might not follow all manufacturing regulations after being approved by different official authorities. So, proper monitoring is essential.
4. Lack of planning from the manufacturing side: Lack of machines is certainly an issue, but the industry didn’t pay attention to this problem when they were busy grabbing the orders. This shows a lack in their planning in these tough times. However, some big manufacturing players parallelly worked on ordering machines as well, while they were in the process of finalising orders of body coveralls.
H&H has understood its responsibility and didn’t commit the industry to send machines, but committed to helping them in sample making of body coveralls in its Innovation Centre in Bangalore, India. “It’s not about selling the machines only, it’s about standing in solidarity to make such complex product in a correct way and set an example in the industry to adopt right methods,” informed Anshuman. H&H offers AI-118 hot air sealing machine to accurately applying sealing operation on body coveralls and HT-360 Hydrostatic Tester to test fabric strength under a specified applied pressure.
On one hand, where some companies are manufacturing single-use body coveralls using non-woven fabric, there are players who are producing reusable coveralls made by woven fabric. Kusumgar Corporates, a textile company and recently approved supplier of fabrics for PPE, offers woven fabric made from synthetic multifilament yarn and these fabrics are coated with a special grade of polyurethane to make liquids including blood impermeable. “Coating and lamination on the fabric is one of the important aspects not to miss while producing fabric for body suits and we know this,” shared Nitesh Mittal, Senior Manager (Marketing), Kusumgar Corporates.
The fabric produced by Kusumgar is two-layered structure – one layer of woven fabric and one layer of coating. The fibre used is nylon; however, polyester can be used as well, as per the company.
“The fabric is made in India. We have weaving, finishing coating and lamination facility all under one roof. The current coveralls used are largely made by non-woven fabrics which are of single use. However, in developed countries, people have started using coveralls made from woven fabrics which are durable and can be used after wash as well keeping the same performance. We should also consider the disposal plan is very critical for these products, and if we can make it reusable, it is always better,” corroborated Nitesh.
This is not the first time when the apparel and medical industries are facing such raging demand for such kind of body coveralls with antibacterial treatments in fabrics. Back in 2004, during the SARS outspread, the demand for this product was soaring, though India wasn’t much affected by the epidemic. But the country is now feeling the heat of Coronavirus which is not as deadly as SARS, but far more dangerous when it comes to spreading into larger population. Sweden-based Polygiene AB is offering a technology called ViralOff which claims to kill over 99 per cent of viruses in 2 hours as per an ISO 18184:2019 test. Viruses tested so far are Influenza A, BirdFlu, Norovirus, SARS and Coronavirus.
Upon asking how ViralOff can help at industrial level, such as big mills and PPE manufacturers, Vishal Bhandari, Technical Director (South Asia), Polygiene AB, said, “The regular body suits are treated with oleophobic coatings/water repellents, and the main motive is to avoid moisture-based contamination so that blood cannot penetrate the suits.”
Even though the suits have oleophobic coating, the virus will transfer onto the suits and it will stay there for a long time if a person infected with COVID-19 or other flu sneezes or touches. To kill those viruses, one needs a protection against them, and Vishal claims ViralOff is meant for this. “Similarly, for face masks, it’s a must to do the treatment. The top layer is mostly treated with oleophobic coating and the filter is N95 or other. If you have top and bottom layers treated with technology, it will be helpful. If an infected person uses the mask, it will avoid transmission that may happen through sneeze droplets or the saliva that we spit while talking. If the other person is wearing the mask, the viruses will stick to the surface and not penetrate, and the technology will combat the viruses,” averred Vishal.
Furthermore, ViralOff can help at institutional level as well, especially in hospitals, hotels, medical colleges and railways. “Hospitals can do linens treated with ViralOff, and looking at the cost perspective, they may use this in industrial laundries as well to keep their linen fresh. Other than giving the protection against bacteria and virus, it also helps in keeping the garments stay fresh and prevent odour generation in textiles,” commented Vishal.
Sterilisation is one of the most important aspects to take care of before using a PPE and the industry giants know this fact quite well. Spanish leader in finishing technology Jeanologia stepped to the forefront when the Spanish Government needed a helping hand to sanitise PPE, especially face shields and face masks, worn by frontliners. Even now when death toll of Spain due to COVID-19 has crossed 19,000 and total infection has crossed 170,000, Jeanologia is tirelessly indulged into sanitising the face shields, which it receives from makers and ships to the areas of need.
As the Spanish Government’s preferred way to sanitise face shield is Ozone, Jeanologia converted its G2 Ozone Technology into a sanitisation box for face shields.The oxidation process in this Ozone technology is so strong that it does not produce any kind of chemical residues or solvents.
However, coming out of the domestic boundaries, Jeanologia is extending its technological support to the global scale and planning to reach out countries like the USA, Mexico, India, and Bangladesh among many others. “The problem is we are not aware of regulations set by the Indian Government, and for that, we are consistently in touch with the Government officials. Once everything is decided according to a set official protocol, we will start helping the Indian medical industry too in sanitising not just masks but also the coveralls, which was not the case when we fielded our technology in Spain,” informed Manuj Kanchan, GM – South Asia, Jeanologia.
Here is what Dr. Prabir Jana, Professor, NIFT Delhi (India) has to say about coverall manufacturing…
First we need to understand that PPE is not one piece of equipment; it consists of mask, face shield, body coverall, shoe cover, gloves, etc. and neither a single agency is expert in technical knowledge of all items nor any single organisation can make each of these items. Resulting, traders initially picked up the Government order and then scrambled for technology knowhow to make each of them.
At fabric front, there is already compromise; some of the fabrics used are having negligible breathabilityand this will surely affect comfort of doctors. The coverall specification mentioned only “tape over seam” without elaborating how the tape should be attached over seam. It appears there are two options – hot melt tape being attached using hot air seam sealing machine or cold sealing tape which can be attached without using any machine at room temperature. As per industry claim, both types of seam (by hot melt tape and by cold tape) can pass the ISO 16603 test for a variety of fabrics. Although the performance of hot melt sealing tape is tested and proven (used in outerwear and performance wear), the unknown for cold sealing tape is deterioration of sealing effectiveness over time (storage before use) and standardisation of process. As the cold tape is applied manually, the amount and consistency of pressure application can’t be controlled, that is why many a time tests are failed.
It is advisable to those organised large manufacturers using cold sealing tape to improvise any existing feed of arm or post bed sewing machine to apply cold seal tape faster, and with consistent pressure. You may have old Teflon rollers (smooth surface, not toothed ones, typically from old feed of arm or multi-needle chainstitch machine) lying in your mechanic room. The enterprising machine engineer at your workshop should be able to do the job.
As the body coveralls will be worn by high-risk (doctors, etc.) as well as low-risk workers, I am sure the Indian Government has done necessary categorisation of coveralls coming from different manufacturers to ensure right category reaches the right person. Also, necessary quality control protocol is in place to ensure quality is maintained as both small traders and large manufacturers are involved in manufacturing.
I am sure, necessary sterilisation of the coveralls before use is also thought of by the Government. The garment finishing technology giants like Ramsons and Jeanologia have something to offer; the industry collectively has to reach out to them. As usual, nobody is talking about safe disposal mechanism after use, so now is the right time to wake up before it’s too late.
Although I encourage young technologists at different institutes to think out of the box at this time, and many new innovative approaches came up (and highlighted by hyperactive media), we need to be cautious before any implementation. While polythene sheets/tubes can give 100 per cent viral protection, but without breathability, one will suffocate! Surely glue can replace sewing+taping, but without quick drying technology and uninterrupted dispensing mechanism, commercial application would be a challenge.
My last request to manufacturers, do ‘Jugaad’ on productivity front but not on quality front; it is the question of someone’s life, we should not play with their trust on us.
Read the following article written by Dr. Prabir Jana for more detailed perspective on this subject: Protect our Health Workers: Making of Body Coverall