SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Saudi petrochemical major SABIC has adjusted its production slate to meet increased demand from sectors such as healthcare and packaging amid the coronavirus pandemic, a company official said.
“Covid-19 [coronavirus disease 2019] is a unique situation which is still developing and we are continually evaluating its impact on our business,” Janardhanan Ramanujalu - SABIC vice president & regional head for south Asia, Australia and New Zealand - told ICIS.
Across the Asia Pacific, SABIC has contributed materials for the production of 9m face shields; 50,000 square meters of hygienic barrier screens; 360,000 safety goggles; 5m Covid-19 test kits; 200,000 ventilator machines; and 5m non-woven masks.
Its products used to help safeguard against Covid-19 include its LEXAN and CYCOLOY polycarbonate - raw materials used to produce ventilators and respiratory masks; as well as polypropylene (PP), which are used in making medical disposable gowns, masks, shields and coveralls.
The coronavirus pandemic, which started in China in late 2019, has so far killed more than 600,000 people globally with the total tally infections now at more than 15m, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We expect that the impact of the pandemic will continue to influence markets in the region in the short to medium term but we have confidence in the resilience and strength of our operations and supply chain,” he said.
Many of SABIC’s manufacturing sites have been permitted to operate in full compliance with local regulatory as well as health and safety guidelines, Ramanujalu said.
“Given this, we were able to meet the unprecedented shifts in demand by harnessing our existing global resources, strategic network of manufacturing and distribution facilities and country teams and partners to prioritise orders for urgently needed healthcare materials to address heightened demand,” he said.
The company worked closely with its trans-shipment hub in Singapore and Malaysia in Asia Pacific – collaborating with warehouse operators, shipping lines, trucking transport providers, courier services, local custom brokers and local authorities to assess the evolving coronavirus developments across various countries and ports.
“For example, we engaged with various customers and third-party suppliers to work round the clock to prioritise requests from the healthcare industry and managed to optimise lead-times by 50% in Asia, despite supply and logistical challenges posed by Covid-19,” he said.
The global pandemic has brought to the forefront the significant role that plastics play, particularly in safeguarding against Covid-19 on medical frontlines, Ramanujalu said.
Since the coronavirus pandemic started, SABIC has supplied resins used in the making of Covid-19 test kits in South Korea and LEXAN polycarbonate resins which are used in the production of ventilators in Vietnam.
The company has now delivered via its Chunju plant in South Korea raw materials for 170,000 Covid-19 test kits.
In Vietnam, SABIC’s supply of raw materials facilitated the production of ventilators by Vietnamese conglomerate, VinSmart, within just two weeks in the month of April.
“Within two months, we supplied the customer [VinSmart] with flame retardant and high impact resistance LEXAN polycarbonate resins to produce a total of 55,000 ventilators, which are critically needed across the globe,” Ramanujalu said.
SABIC has also worked closely with Titan Plastic Vietnam Co to prioritise and deliver LEXAN resins with high clarity and scratch resistance to support their production of 360,000 protective goggles in May, to safeguard medical front liners in Vietnam, Japan and Germany.
Aside from medical supplies, the demand for packaging materials used for food and other essential goods has grown, driven by retailers' need to meet rising consumer demand and restock shelves quickly, Ramanujalu said.
“For instance, we saw a surge in demand for our PP material for food packaging applications in Japan,” he added.
Plastics will continue to play a critical role in safeguarding communities particularly as restrictions ease up and personal protective equipment and barrier sheets are utilised in public spaces and offices to prevent virus transmission and safeguard public health, Ramanujalu said.
“Food security and the increase in packaging demand for food and other essential goods to maintain product integrity, safety, hygiene and a longer shelf-life, will also remain key,” he said.
“These changing trends, which will impact almost all spheres of personal and public life are likely to see the plastics industry continue to play a crucial role post Covid-19 for the foreseeable future.”
Interview article by Nurluqman Suratman
Photo: Janardhanan Ramanujalu, vice president & regional head for south Asia, Australia and New Zealand at SABIC. (Source: SABIC)
Visit the ICIS Coronavirus topic page for analysis of the impact on chemical markets and links to latest news