A local clothing unit, aligned with Chinese entrepreneurs, is set to export KN95 facemasks to multiple economies, including the USA, diversifying the country's $33.7-billion export basket.
The clothing factory, Apparel Promoters Ltd, is a concern of the Ctg-based Smart Group of Industries, which has been manufacturing the high-end medical products.
Sri Lanka, the USA, Germany, Japan and Croatia are five economies that have tied with the local group to procure KN95 and allied products.
The first shipment will take place to Sri Lanka with 1.0 million pieces on December 02 by air.
"Our first export of KN95 is to Sri Lanka and it will happen on December 02," said Peter DONG, a director at Apparel Promoters Limited.
Peter DONG, Jeames LU and Nicole SHAN are three experts and entrepreneurs of China who have ventured to make KN95 and other medical products with Smart Group.
Health ministry of Sri Lanka is procuring the products from Bangladesh.
The island country of South Asia will be continuing to purchase the same from here, commented Mr Peter.
He said the US state of Virginia is also in the final stage of procuring KN95 from Bangladesh. "I don't prefer to disclose the volume, but it's huge…"
Gish Uddin Ahmed, a general manager at Apparel Promoters, told the FE that the second shipment might be made to Germany followed by the USA.
"We're now producing for Germany," he said.
The Hamburg-based Hansemed is procuring the mask.
Atlantic Group, based in the USA, has placed an initial order of 1.5-million pieces.
Mr Ahmed said they were waiting for LCs (letters of credit) from Croatia. "We've finalised a deal but are awaiting LCs from the central European country."
Local drug-maker JMI Syringes and Medical Devices Ltd earlier planned to manufacture the same but they later postponed it.
"We don't manufacture KN95 so there is no question of exports," JMI chairman Jabed Iqbal Pathan told the FE.
But Pran-RFL has undertaken a project to make KN95 at its Narayanganj plant, officials of the local commodity major told the FE.
Mr Peter said some factories can produce surgical masks. But production of KN95 and N95 need technical and sophisticated equipment.
"Even we took some time to make the perfect product in the Ctg plant," he said.
However, the brand name of the mask is 'Smart Smile'.
The plant obtained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and the European agency much earlier.
Smart Group also produces surgical or medical masks.
It also sells both KN95 and surgical masks and others pertaining to it to the local market as well.
Smart Group chairman Mostafizur Rahman said they are overwhelmed by the size of orders.
"We may expand our plant to cope with the growing demand nfollowing the second wave of coronavirus,"
Mr Rahman said they have been using the same technology used by Sinopec and 3M masks.
Smart Group has its own lab facility to measure the level of filtration efficiency of masks that is hardly available in Bangladesh.
It is producing 'melt-blown' fabric, which is the same as used in 3M masks.
Melt-blown fabric is called the heart of the mask for preventing bacteria and multiple types of dust from entering the respiratory tract.
The plant is now producing half a million pieces of masks of both the categories per day.
The production capacity will be expanded further.
An estimated Tk 300 million has been invested in the Smart Group's factory, now run by a Chinese team of experts.
The local group has 55 per cent stakes in it while the rest belongs to Chinese entrepreneurs.
The global market of masks was merely $0.79 billion in 2019, which is now estimated at $166.44 billion in 2020, according to Grandview Research.
China is the world's biggest supplier of KN95-the country which first fought with COVID-19.
KN95 is mostly called in China and Europe but the same is called KN94 in Korea and N95 in the USA.
Actually, the shape and materials used are almost the same, the company said.