From shrimp farming to facemasks for the fjords
Norway is to be the location of Scandinavia’s first plant for the fully integrated production of meltblown nonwovens and their conversion to three-ply surgical facemasks.
Naukatek AS is a new company founded by nanotechnologist Liudmila Ilyukhina, polymer production specialist Ilya Gorelkin and serial entrepreneur Stein Inge Haaland. In September, the company will take delivery of a 1.6 metre wide standalone Reicofil meltblown machine, having already installed a facemask converting machine at its new plant in Trondheim.
At the start of 2020, however, Liudmila and Stein had been anticipating a very different next move.
“I had been involved in the successful digitalisation and optimisation of Norway’s largest healthcare interpreting services group and was looking to do something completely different,” she explains. “Our plan was to establish the largest shrimp farming operation in Sri Lanka, based on all the latest digital and sustainable technologies available today. The groundwork had already been done at the proposed site, but then Sri Lanka closed its borders.”
Digital supply chain
Back in Norway, with time on her hands as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded, she turned her attention to the PPE shortages, which – as elsewhere – were preoccupying the country’s frontline health workers, and wondered how she could help.
“My initial idea was to build a digitalised supply chain for the effective distribution of masks produced on sewing machines in the home,” she says. “Then I started to study standards and quality issues and quickly realised that without meltblown nonwovens we were not going anywhere. Further investigations inevitably led me to Reifenhäuser Reicofil, as the specialist in this field.”
After fruitful discussions with Reicofil and assistance from Investkonsult in Sweden, Naukatek AS was quick off the mark to make the deposit on its new meltblown line, signing the contract at the very beginning of April – ahead of the many new meltblown investments that were subsequently announced throughout April and May.
“This was perhaps a little too early for the Norwegian government who we were certain would back the project,” Liudmila says. “For the moment, however, we are relying on our own funding and that of private investors but we are certain the value it will bring to Norway will quickly become apparent. The country will become self-sufficient in the critical filter material it needs and Norwegian companies will not have to follow price fluctuations in the world market. Just as importantly, we will have quality control, as there have been issues with imported facemasks arriving here with incorrect certification. Nobody wants Norwegian health professionals to breathe in dangerous substances or spread infection because of poor facemasks.”
In addition to the Filterfabrikk-branded facemask material, the Reicofil line could also be employed in the production of membranes and sorbents for Norway’s significant oil production industry, should demand for facemasks decline. The converting line will have a monthly capacity of three million facemasks – more than enough to meet the needs of a country with a population of just 5.4 million people. The remainder of the meltblown material capacity – 40 tons per month – will be available for the general market to help other countries out with PPE shortages.