Defence forced called in to boost production of Australian-made surgical face masks

When the Federal Government asked Australia’s only surgical mask manufacturer Med-Con to increase its supply from two million to 60 million by November, it was easier said than done.

Med-con, based in the northern Victorian town of Shepparton, did not have enough mask-making machines to ramp up production, nor did they still have Joe Carmody’s 1980s designs to build new ones.

To add to the problem, only two of the three current machines were operational.

A former employee was engaged as a consultant and the Australian Defence Force was brought in to strip down the broken machine and reverse engineer it, creating 3-D models of all its parts.

The process to bring the machine back to working order took less than two weeks, and the ADF engineers also completed a set of drawing to help build more machines. Meanwhile, the highly qualified personnel supported existing Med-Con staff on production, machine operations training, maintenance, repair and warehousing.

When it came time to build new machines, Med-Con engaged Foodmach, a food packaging machine manufacturer in Echuca. Foodmach initially built three new machines, and in early May received Federal Government funding to build four more. This would increase Med-Con’s annual output to 160 million masks.

This project proved a huge boost to Foodmach, which was looking to reduce workers’ hours as other contracts fell through.

Foodmach CEO Earle Roberts told @aumanufacturing, “With nearly 1,000 unique parts in each machine in terms of individual designs, it’s been quite an undertaking. We’ve had to design, manufacturer or procure all of them. The project has tested our internal capacity and our supply chains.”

In the same blog, Ray Stockwell, CEO of Operations at Med-Con said the company should have stopped manufacturing masks 10 years ago because we were barely covering costs.

“But we believe in the quality of what we do here in Australia, and we refused to give in to imported products.”

You can read more about the project on Foodmach’s website.

Several other Victorian businesses have taken advantage of the ICN COVID Response Portal, while others have ramped up manufacturing or pivoted to meet demand for PPE, hand sanitiser and more. For example, Ballarat’s Haymes Paint began manufacturing hand sanitiser, and Deutscher Healthcare, also based in Ballarat, increased its production of hospital beds.

COVID-19 restrictions hit Victoria in mid-March with the last-minute cancellation of the 2020 Australian Grand Prix. ICN Vic had been hosting a networking event at the Grand Prix when the announcement was made.

Since then, all staff have been working from home supporting local businesses as they adapt and react to the moving goalposts that the global pandemic has created.


“We are keeping up our level of contact with all stakeholders just in a different format,” Manager – Strategic Projects and Supply Chains, Andrew Bradley said.

“We have presented at a number of tenderer briefings, demonstrated ICN Analytics and responded to requests for assistance on the Local Industry Development Plan, via Zoom, Teams or Phone.