Coronavirus pandemic: OFB in the forefront of the war against COVID – 19

Published: April 25, 2020 5:25 PM

Machine Tool factory under OFB at Ambernath, Thane, Maharashtra has designed and developed a cost-effective, portable ventilator which is user friendly and automatic in operation.

Of 170,000 PPE kits that arrived in India on April 5, about 50,000 failed quality tests. Of 170,000 PPE kits that arrived in India on April 5, about 50,000 failed quality tests. (Representative image)

BY Lt Gen AB Shivane (Retd)

The Ordnance Factories were born to serve the war effort of the armies of the state and have played a crucial role in every skirmish, battle and war since the days of the East-India Company, the British Empire and independent India. The war against COVID–19 is no different and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is in the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus. OFB continues to play a stellar role in supporting national security and combat soldiers, only this time the soldiers were different ie Doctors, Health Workers, Law authorities and all frontline agencies bravely combating CORONA. It single-handedly overcame enormous challenges in this emergent situation including formalities of financial transactions in a governmental system, and worked 24×7 in continuous monitoring, quick development and realigned time-critical production of COVID related items.

OFB came to the forefront following a series of high-level consultations by Govt of India. It was during a video conference chaired by the Cabinet Secretary which included the Chairman Railway Board, the Director-General and Chairman of the OFB and the Chairman of ISRO on the 24th of March, that the strategy of the national war effort emerged and took shape. Team OFB undertook a proactive war-like effort to reorient and realign to emerge as frontline COVID Warrior. What followed was a blitzkrieg of video conferences between the Chairman and senior officers of the OFB and the General Managers of the forty-one Ordnance Factories. Almost ten thousand minutes of video conferencing spread over nineteen days, totalling about one and a half million man-minutes led to a realignment of the production process to produce new products to fight the virus. In house, R&D and weapon/equipment production lines were swiftly realigned on a war footing.

The DGOF and Chairman of OFB, Hari Mohan led Team OFB from the front with his transformation vision and provided a platform for the exercise of initiative and innovation at all levels. It was a combination of empowerment, lateral and out of the box thinking and disciplined execution within strict timelines by Team OFB.

These efforts led to important developments in a number of areas. The factories under the Ammunition and Explosives (A&E) group of the OFB quickly commenced the bulk manufacture of hand sanitizer against initial order of seventy thousand litres placed by Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL) which was appointed as the nodal agency for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) by the Government of India and the first consignment was flagged off remotely from Kolkata on the 31st of March, as it left the gates of the historic Cordite Factory Aruvankadu (CFA)near Ooty in Tamilnadu for an HLL facility at Thiruvananthapuram. Subsequently, the production also started at the Ordnance Factory Bhandara, near Nagpur and the Ordnance Factory Itarsi in M.P.

The success of hand sanitizer was followed by the development of the Tent medical 2M by the Ordnance Equipment Factory at Kanpur. The tent is a light-weight, low-cost, readily deployable single fly tent with an area of 9.55 square meters which can contain two beds and all the necessary equipment for patients requiring isolation for the purpose of quarantine. This tent has been supplied to the Governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha the Punjab Police and the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi.

Alongside the success of the tent, the Ordnance Factories took up the production of the coverall required by the health care workers attending to patients. As reported in media, many kits made in China, the world’s main supplier, that were donated to the Indian government, were supposedly found unusable because they failed safety checks. Of 170,000 PPE kits that arrived in India on April 5, about 50,000 failed quality tests. The solution thus lied in the solution to Fight and Win COVID 19, by indigenous capabilities. OFB thus undertook this challenge head-on and produced the desired quality PPE. The coverall is a single-use PPE made of non- woven poly spun-bonded fabric which is required to be absolutely impermeable to blood and other bodily fluids conforming to standards laid down by the American Society of Testing of Materials (ASTM)and the International Standards Organisation (ISO). The key constraint was that the facility of administering the blood penetration test, wherein the fabric is tested using synthetic blood at predetermined pressures for specified periods of time, was available only with the South Indian Textile research Institute (SITRA) and with DRDE at Gwalior.OFB took up this challenge in a mission mode at multiple locations and within a space of a fortnight conceived, designed and produced machines to administer this test. On the 11th of April, the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Chennai and the Small Arms Factory at Kanpur obtained accreditation from the NABL for their facilities. On the 13th of April, the first consignment of coverall against an initial order of 01.10 lakh coveralls left the Ordnance Clothing Factory at Avadi for an HLL facility. On the 17th of April, three more factories at Muradnagar in Ghaziabad near Delhi, Hazratpur in Firozabad near Agra and Kanpur also obtained NABL accreditation. Two more facilities at Ambarnath near Mumbai and at Ishapore near Kolkata are planned, thereby creating pan India testing network.

Machine Tool factory under OFB at Ambernath, Thane, Maharashtra has designed and developed a cost-effective, portable ventilator which is user friendly and automatic in operation. The device has the facility to control the parameters like breathing rate per minute, tidal volume and inhalation vs exhalation ratio. It has been successfully tested with a test lung. Another significant achievement was the repair of a large number of ICU ventilators in the hospitals at Hyderabad by the Ordnance Factory Medak.

On the humanitarian front, Ordnance Factories have also set aside 280 beds in 10 hospitals. Individual factories have donated PPEs and hand sanitizers to local authorities, distributed food to the poor and the needy, and helped organize the community to tackle the virus. The employees of the Ordnance Factories have also donated generously to the PM – CARES Fund.

The Ordnance Factories are dedicated to the idea of a safe and secure nation under all circumstances, based on indigenous solutions. Their untiring efforts stand a testimony of their spirit and capability to be a key pillar of strengthening national security against all forms of challenges be it conventional wars or germ wars like COVID. Indeed, “Nation Above All 24×7”. The OFB efforts as a Corona Warrior needs to be lauded by the nation.

(The author is a consultant to OFB. Views expressed are personal.)

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