The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) stepped up operations to come up with santisers, PPE, masks and others equipment in record time to fight Covid-19. However, arsenal production has been suspended, creating a backlog of orders for the armed forces. In an exclusive conversation with Avishek Rakshit, OFB chairman Hari Mohan discusses his experience with Covid-19, the new normal arising out of the pandemic and plans to clear the backlog. Edited excerpts.
Have you been operational during the lockdown period?
We were ordered to work with 50 per cent workforce March 19 onwards and were made to close down from March 23. As a result, we could not produce arsenal for the military but directed our efforts towards making Covid-19 related items. Out of 41 factories, 19 were working making Covid-19 related items such as sanitisers, PPEs, masks and tents for isolation wards.
You have never made sanitisers previously. What was the experience?
Our nature of job provides us an in-built agility and flexibility to perform even in times of war and maintain supplies. By March 26, we were ready to produce hand sanitisers in bulk. But we could deliver the first consignment of 13,000 litres to Trivandrum from our Ooty factory only on March 31, as the bottling plants were not ready. By April 25, we delivered 100,000 litres of sanitisers, which is equal to two million bottles from four factories in Ooty, Nagpur, Itarsi and Pune. Our sanitisers were priced at 25 per cent of those available in the retail market.
What is order for sanitisers now?
Currently we do not have any outstanding bulk orders but are ready to produce whatever the need be. We have 10,000 litres in stock.
Did you have the same flexibility with PPEs as well?
We make uniforms for the armed forces for extreme climatic conditions, like in Siachen and so have experience in this field. In a record time of 13 days, we conceptualised, designed and made PPEs as well as got PPE testing equipment certified by NABL. In the normal course, it would have taken a minimum of four months. Apart from manufacturing, we now also have the authority to test and certify PPEs across six locations that cover all major metros. We have created PPE testing infrastructure all over the country.
For priority products, we will be able to make up within a month’s time of the situation normalising, the chief said.(PTI)
What is India’s PPE manufacturing potential now?
The country was previously making 4,000-5,000 PPEs per day but is now producing 200,000 pieces.
Have you resumed operations for military supplies?
After the relaxations, our factories in green zones are operational and the ones in orange zones are partly functional now. Those in red zones are not operational. We have resumed manufacturing arms and ammunition for the armed forces across more than 10 factories.
What challenges are you facing in the manufacturing process now?
Once social distancing has to be maintained, operations become extremely difficult. For instance, if there are 20 workers on a production line normally, all 20 will be required; the production line cannot run with just 10 workers. Right now, we are only able to do component manufacturing and convert semi-finished products into finished ones. Under these conditions, one cannot complete a whole product.
Has there been a backlog in orders from the armed forces?
It is bound to be; but we will be able to handle it. For priority products, we will be able to make up within a month’s time of the situation normalising. For other items, it will take longer.
A security man wearing a protective suit checks documents of stranded Buddhist monks from Thailand at Gaya airport, during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, in Gaya. Photo: PTI
What are the priority items?
We have asked the armed forces to identify priority items needed for the country’s defence. There are, however, some that we already know are a priority -- like Dhanush guns, T-90 tanks, BMP tanks, and assault rifles.
How do you plan to clear this backlog and what is the contingency plan?
We have already started the process of reorganising and realigning ourselves, but cannot achieve the levels seen in January. There are some operations which a single person can do and we will be organising such operations. In my opinion, 85 per cent of operations can be organised while maintaining social distancing. We will have multiple shifts for a product line. In tank assembly, for instance, where several people are needed, we can have maximum of two people now; so, we will need multiple shifts.
There will be some compromise over productivity, there may be some compromise on the ultimate output, as multiple people cannot work around now.
What about workforce availability?
Sixty per cent of our officers and supervisors live in our colonies and around 25-40 per cent of the workers, depending on the location, live in colonies. We can call them to work. But it is not the same for people living in or near containment zones.
Is procurement of raw materials going to be a problem?
Slightly. There is a flight of workers to their villages and we don’t expect them to return anytime soon. Workers may now be keen to look for jobs in their villages itself rather than come back to urban centres. There has been a change in workers’ perspective. This is what whole country is going to face and maybe people will have to go for more automation and certain operations could be relocated.
But I am sure the industry will realign.