Mask Factory Invader

Mask Factory Invader

I was invited to spend a couple of hours at a surgical mask factory in Singapore and my first thought was: ”They still make things in Singapore?” So I know about the Dyson factory and the Rolls-Royce facility, then my mind is blank. Well, because of the pandemic, I can add one more thing to the mental list of consumer products made here. It turns out machines are churning out masks 10 minutes from where I live in Bedok. In their Chai Chee Lane factory, The Wellness Fellows company can make up to 60,000 of them during a 9 am to 6 pm shift. Chances are, you are not wearing one of them. Their masks are not for the, uh, price-sensitive. Sold under The Mask Fellows brand, they go for around $25 for a 50-piece box on e-commerce sites like Lazada. A quick browse at shops near me and on online shopping sites shows that made-in-China masks are well under $10 a box. In a shop the other day, I saw a $5 tag on one.

A mask is a mask is a mask, right? Are the made-in-Singapore products sewn with gold thread? Will they emit vibrations that will attract your soulmate? When I arrive at the headquarters, the team behind the company put me in a conference room and launch into a presentation for their audience of one. They are intense and prepared, they have Powerpoint and mean to use it.

They are the kind of presenter who stops after making a point to make sure it has sunk in and will not go on until I make a gesture showing that it has sunk in. I nod and nod so much I fear my neck may never recover. It is all about certifications – an alphabet soup of them – awarded in Singapore, Europe the United States, and elsewhere, stating that the masks are made according to standards. You can go to their site to learn about them. Here is why their masks cost more, in e-mail from company founder and managing director Daniel Chui: " You need a reliable, trusted and strong shield to fight any war. Learn the science and understand the reason for the price. " A surgical mask goes through a stringent set of tests in accordance with global standards, with certification and regulatory approval carried out before it's sold to the public. ”A surgical mask is your best defense and shield between death and the virus because it is a medical device – it’s not just a personal choice”

 

The Straits Times senior correspondent John Lui guiding the paper on a machine at The Wellness Fellows’ mask factory on Nov 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

I hope you read the bit about death. Nod if you have. As I said, they are intense. Time to go on to the mask-making part.
The production lines are clean. I don the head-to-toe gear – plastic coat, gloves, hair cap, shoe covers – and then go into a chamber where jets of air blast every bit of me before I could enter the shop floor. In short, each line takes three spools of fabric – the inner, middle and outer layers – and fuses them into a sandwich. Downstream, ear loops are added and before each mask is sealed in its own plastic bag, I check for quality, tossing out any mask with earloops not fused on firmly enough. And that is it, really. It is nearly all automated, so I do a couple of remaining human tasks, such as loading new spools on the spindle and gathering the sealed masks for packaging into boxes later on. I also sit in the packing line, counting out masks for their 30-count packs and placing them into a box. I try to simulate actual conditions by making idle chit-chat with two women packers on my left, but they refuse to engage. I think it is because of counting rather than my personality.

 

The Straits Times senior correspondent John Lui packing masks into a box at The Wellness Fellows’ mask factory on Nov 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The Wellness Fellows plan factory tours for the public in December, so check their web site. Dynasty Travel will also offer the tours (indicate your interest by e- mailing [email protected]). The one-hour tour should cost $25, which includes a box of masks, offsetting the price of entry. As I leave, the folks there give me a goodie bag filled with masks, with the few that I touched with my gloved hands in there as a keepsake. It is a nice gesture, but most likely, it is to maintain quality control. So rest easy knowing that if you get a Mask Fellows pack, it will have been made by someone who actually knows what they are doing.

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