The out-of-control epidemic has placed the face-mask supply in Taiwan into chaos and resulted in collective anxiety. The leaders of Taiwan’s machine tools industry have suspended their businesses and formed a national team to assist with the supply of surgical masks without compensation. Their actions provided hope in a time of darkness, and this may enable the public to continue buying face masks.
Minister of Economic Affairs, Shen Jong-chin, guaranteed that an additional 60 production lines for face masks will be in place by mid-March at the latest. By this time, each production line should produce 100,000 face masks each day, increasing the daily mask production capacity by 6 million. With the existing daily production capacity of 4 million masks, Taiwan will become the world’s second largest producer of masks with 10 million face masks per day.
Since the commencement of the Year of the Rat in 2020, the number of confirmed cases and deaths due to Covid-19 around the world have continued to rise. Thus, face masks have become strategic materials affecting national security. Fighting over face masks has become commonplace. In some cases, businesses unable to purchase face masks have resorted to fighting over production equipment to produce their own masks in order to maintain their business operations.
Some businesses have disclosed that in addition to the shortages of face masks, production equipment and parts are in short supply. Under these challenging conditions, Premier Su and Minister Shen have maintained their confidence in the supply because of the support of the national team of made-in-Taiwan (MIT) face-mask machinery suppliers.
The national team comprises technical and human resources from national-level research institutes in addition to national level research institutes and the Precision Machinery Research & Development Center (PMC). The team also has support from major machine tool companies Tongtai, Takisawa Taiwan, Yeong Chin Machinery Industries (YCM), Awea Mechantronics, HIWIN Technologies, and HiWin Mikrosystems.
In normal times, the members of this national team are leaders of their industries, and their combined production value approaches NT$100 billion. The epidemic unexpectedly induced these business owners to suspend their own businesses and become volunteers. In addition to providing staffing, labor, and parts without seeking compensation, they have voluntarily combined to form a strong, national team, which is without precedence.
The key figure in the rapid formation of the national team was Yen Jui-Hsiung—the honorary chairman of the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders’ Association and the chairman of TTGroup.
At the end of January 2020, the government announced the expropriation of face masks throughout Taiwan, the centralization of the sale of face masks, and the creation of new government owned face masks production lines. When seeing this news, TTGroup Chairman Yen intuitively sensed that something was wrong. The cause of the problem may have been the technical threshold for mask production machinery, a lack of materials and labor, or a lack of production equipment.
Even with sufficient materials, face masks cannot be produced if the most basic equipment is missing. After clarifying the cause, Yen immediately recruited industry colleagues within his association to assist in the creation of production lines. Unexpectedly, these busy business owners put aside their own businesses to assist immediately.
Lai Yung-hsiang recalled that on February 4th, 2020, when the government announced the limited sale of face masks based on a real-name system, he and the Industrial Technology Research Institute along with similar corporate bodies met with the Ministry of Economic Affairs to discuss how to accelerate the construction of production lines for face masks. The same day, Yen called Lai on behalf of the Taiwan Machine Tool & Accessory Builders’ Association to ask for his help.
Therefore, TTGroup Chairman Yen and Takisawa President Winston Tai personally led a team of elite technicians with technologies and spare parts from YCM, deta International, TPI Bearings, HIWIN Technologies, and Awea. Lai described with great emotion, that “these people are all ace batters—once they arrive at work, they squat down for low level work like wiring, and they don’t leave until 10 pm.”
This team of 120 elite professional create a production value of approximately NT$200 million every 2 months. However, not only did they not seek compensation for their work, they even brought their own lunches, rented their own accommodation, and used their own tool boxes. Their only goal was to ensure that face masks production lines could open as soon as possible and alleviate the public’s uneasiness.
During a pandemic, a shortage of face masks can lead to collective anxiety and the potential collapse of society. Fortunately, the human instinct to help each other is a sign of hope in the dark times.