A nasal swab does not look like much but when it is the only part of a COVID-19 test kit that comes in contact with the patient’s nose or throat, it can make a huge difference. Because the accuracy in the result of the test solely depends on the efficiency of the specimen sample collected on the flocked surface, explains Jehan Mehta, head, marketing and business development, Jehan Impex. He explains to Viveka Roychowdhury why a nylon flocked swab scores over a cotton one, and how his company is supporting more than 15 leading biotech companies in India to meet the growing need for affordable swab flocking machines for COVID-19 test kits
What is the importance of flocked swabs in COVID-19 test kits?
If COVID-19 test kits are important to contain the spread of the virus, the nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal flocked swabs are an integral and a vital part of specimen collection and the only part that comes in contact with the patient’s nose or throat. The accuracy in the result of the test solely depends upon the efficiency of the specimen sample collected on the flocked surface.
Flocked swabs utilise innovative nylon fiber technology under condition of electro-static field. This technology helps stick the fibers vertically erect and turns each strand into a velvet brush-like texture that creates hundreds of contact points for superior collection and release of solid and semi-solid specimen samples. With a high liquid collection, the strong capillary hydraulics between the nylon strands draw up maximum liquid sample. Flocked swab is an ideal choice for rapid diagnostic tests because of their efficiency of collecting cells or organisms at the collection site and rapid release of entire cells.
With cotton swabs, the specimen collected is mostly absorbed by the swab and minimal amount is retained whereas in the case of nylon flocked swabs, there is no inner fabric or other inner core to absorb the specimen. Hence a larger amount of specimen is collected and retained. Not only does this provide for better sample yield, it also allows a more rapid and complete release of the sample into viral transport medium.
What were the production levels at Jehan Impex for flocking machines pre COVID? And now during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pre COVID-19, we at Jehan Impex have been producing electro-static flocking machines for 65 years to cater to various industries such as automobile, textile, footwear, packaging, cosmetic and many more with its applications. We have been exporting our machines over the past 30 years and have been a market leader in India with a global footprint across several nations like UAE, Kenya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and many more.
With the onset of the pandemic in our country and the immediate demand for mass testing, we took a step forward in March 2020 to innovate and develop our machinery to service the need in the biotech industry for swab flocking in India. We have dedicated our workforce and manufacturing facility entirely to ramp up our production levels to about 4x of our production capacity pre COVID-19.
COVID-19 cases are expected to surge in the next few months due to upcoming festivals as well as the onset of winter. With testing ramping up, do you see your production too ramping up?
With a culturally active nation like India, the second half of the year is full of festivities and with the onset of winter, we understand that there will be a need to ramp up the existing mass testing. Hence, we have provision to not only ramp up the production of the machinery but also scale up the production output per machinery.
Currently, on an average one can flock 400 swabs in 20 seconds with our equipment and as the need arises, we can custom size the equipment to flock up to three times the existing production capacity.
In India we need millions of swabs produced every day and we are supporting the leading biotech companies with our machinery since March 2020 to meet these goals.
What has been the revenue growth for you?
It was a conscious decision we made in March to put all our forces to yield the best output for the swab industry. We have generated approx. 3.5 times the revenue pre COVID-19 and we plan to keep moving forward with a projected growth to generate approximately eight times.
Apart from supplying our assembly and support to the leading biotech companies in India, we are looking at generating higher revenue by exports.
What have been your investments tied to increased demand for flocking machines and other materials?
The aim was to not just provide swab flocking machines to the biotech companies in India but an entire assembly with a start to end solution to ease the execution process for our clients.
The basic assembly consists of a swab flocking machine, non-flock raw swab sticks, flock powder, adhesive and drying machine.
Considering the increase in demand we have made investments in manufacturing and continuously stocking up machinery and all the raw materials that are a part of the assembly to meet the immediate need of the hour.
We are prepared to dispatch the assembly the very next day with zero wait time to our clients.
Who is your major client base for medical products?
We have a client base of more than 15 leading biotech companies in India. Some of them are Levram LifeSciences, HiMedia Laboratories, Suparshva Swabs (India), Recombigen Laboratories, Micromaster Laboratories and more.
What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for the company?
The pandemic has been a turning point for our company in terms of opening a new avenue in the biotech industry with an innovative application. Being pioneers of electro-static flocking technology in India and with years of experience we have been able to push our limits to bring down the production cost and maximise the production capacity which has been a gamechanger and successfully competed with international companies. It was the right time for innovation, time for mass production and time to be completely self-reliant.
We realised that the biotech industry was facing three problems in swab production and we at Jehan Impex with our expertise in electro-static flocking sensed the need to arrive to a solution together.
- Problem – Shortage in supply of COVID-19 test swabs.
Solution – Ability to produce millions per day.
- Problem – Exorbitantly priced, in turn increasing the price of the COVID-19 test kit.
Solution – Manufactured at 1/10th the price of imported swabs, hence reducing the price of COVID-19 test kits.
- Problem – Imported from other countries with uncertain time frame and pricing.
Solution – Supporting biotech companies in India to now become completely self-reliant and also promote exports.