Taking a deeper dive with Molnlycke

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Following our article, Mölnlycke inaugurates new sustainability-oriented surgical glove plant in Kulim on 3 October 2022, Enterprise IT News (EITN) takes a deeper dive with Jean-Christophe Guillou, Vice President Global Operations, Gloves Mölnlycke via e-mail to learn more about the environmentally-friendly practices and levels of advanced automation, including up to Industry 4.0 generation, used in its surgical glove production and packing operations.

EITN: Elaborate on what are the environmental-friendly materials, production processes, energy saving, and waste disposal practices, Molnlycke’s production facility uses to achieve being green?

MÖLNLYCKE: At Molnlycke, we’ve implemented a wide range of environmental-friendly initiatives and features with the goal to reduce emissions:

  1. Energy saving management: We are digitalising our operations to better understand how we use energy, so that we can take action to emit less CO2. ‘This includes redesigning our processes to minimise energy loss, improving the efficiency of our machines and other equipment that are using a lot of energy.
  2. New Equipment: We have implemented new and more efficient boilers and motors to power our lines.
  3. Smart building: The new plant has lights and air conditioners with sensors that detect daylight and CO2, and it can be adjusted accordingly to reduce wasted energy. We’re also considering the introduction of a smart air conditioning system which responds to up-to-minute changes in outside temperature.
  4. Clever building materials: To reduce our air conditioning consumption, we are also installing a glass facade with a very high UV protection grade so that it will not transfer heat.
  5. Renewable energy: The new plant will also produce some of its own energy via solar panels. The energy from the solar panels will cover about 10% of our needs. We’ve also signed a ‘green electricity’ agreement meaning that from 2023, all four Molnlycke sites in Malaysia will be empowered by green electricity. To secure the optimal solution, Mölnlycke has worked together with Engie, a consultancy firm specialising in designing and implementing energy solutions giving minimum environmental impact. 
  6. Water Management: By partnering with Veolia, a world leader in water management, we enable ourselves to be above standards when it comes to water management in gloves production. We need to discharge water that is compliant with regulations. We try to recycle as much as possible to reduce the quantity that is discharged. We anticipate this will reduce our consumption by 50%, and we are looking at possibilities to reduce this by another 30%.
  7. Environmental friendly landscaping: The trees being planted around the site require minimal irrigation.

EITN: What levels of advanced automation, including up to Industry 4.0 generation automation does the surgical glove production facility in Kulim employ to save on manual labour, not just in the dippling lines but also in the boxing and cartoning processes after quality control, which is still highly manual?

MÖLNLYCKE: For the Boxing and cartooning which takes place at the packaging plant, we are at the design stage for a fully automated packaging solution project that will kick off at the end of 2022 and to be implemented by the end of 2023.

There is a list of features that has improved manual labour and labour efficiency at the current plant:

AreaNew FeaturesBenefits
UtilitiesProcess water storage tanks & City Water Storage tanks for manufacturingGravity feed to manufacturing plant wide Reserve available for manufacturing and emergency safety shower & eye wash when supply is interrupted
PreparationCompounding chemicals blendingLatex compounding process Solution preparation levelsAlkaline preparation levelsFichlor preparation levelsTransfer gravity feed to expellers Gravity feed to washers, dryers, processing bays, and AG lines.
AG linesUnderground and trench discharge streamsProvide better heat dissipation – cooler environment Provide better upkeep activities Opportunity for Automation Gravity return and discharge to utilities.
P1P2 EquipmentUp to 100kg capacity for washerUp to 100kg capacity for dryersIncreased productivity; reduced upkeep frequency

EITN: With the intensity of the Covid-19 pandemic easing worldwide, drop in daily new infections, and with manufacturers ramping up production capacity, there has been an oversupply of medical gloves in the market. What is the rationale behind Mölnlycke’s latest plant launch?

MÖLNLYCKE: Although the intensity of the Covid-19 pandemic may have eased, the impact on product supply and logistics has been profound. World-wide shipping disruptions, container constraints and extended transit times have affected the ability to supply many products including surgical gloves to end users.

Sterile surgical gloves are a requirement to safe surgery.  Mölnlycke is proud to market the Biogel® surgical glove because Biogel® gloves are designed to protect clinicians and patients.  The Biogel brand is built around a reputation for a comfortable fit and precise feeling, supporting hand performance at every touch.  For surgeons, who rely on their skilled hands and sense of touch, Biogel gloves are more than a protective barrier, they also support precise hand performance.  

Mönlycke invested significant resources to increase our ability to meet customer requirements during the pandemic and beyond.  In September 2022, Mölnlycke opened its newest Biogel® surgical glove factory which will increase our capacity substantially. This expansion will enable Mölnlycke to welcome new customers, support the growth in surgical procedure and explore future partnerships.  We’re excited about the opportunity to expand use of the Biogel® surgical glove because hands deserve better.   

Besides that, we are transforming our business to become a global leader in sustainable healthcare.

As a global healthcare company with Swedish heritage, we strive to embed sustainability in everything we do. WeCare – our sustainability roadmap for 2030 – was developed through a materiality assessment and its major purpose is to guide us in creating shared value for all our stakeholders. It is a driver for growth, innovation and productivity and an essential part of our employee value proposition.

Through a materiality assessment we have identified the following three focus areas:

  • Green mindset
  • Responsible relationships
  • Ethical business

For each of the focus areas we have set our specific position statements, as well as identified ambitious long-term goals to help us reach our targets, and in turn help our customers reach their targets.

EITN: Thank You.

Surgical vs examination gloves

Further to Guillou’s reply to our third question about an oversupply following the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, EITN would like to clarify that there basically are two types of medical gloves – namely surgical and examination.

As Guillou rightly pointed out, surgical gloves, which Mölnlycke produces, are a requirement to safe surgeries. So they are used by medical professionals for a very specific purpose, pandemic or no pandemic.

Surgical gloves are mostly used by surgeons and support staff when performing invasive surgeries which require making incisions in the patient’s flesh, and involves contact with the patient’s exposed flesh, blood, body fluids and internal organs, where any infection by disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi introduced, can be fatal to the patient

Thus, surgical gloves must be sterilised during production, they come in left and right hand pairs, and where human labour is involved in their packing in sterile wallets, this needs to be done in clean rooms by staff wearing sterile overalls, hairnets, gloves, masks and so forth in cleanrooms to avoid contamination of the gloves.

Also, surgical gloves must comply with more stringent standards related to leakage, chemical residues from the manufacturing process than examination gloves, and in Malaysia, their production facilities need to meet more stringent establishment licensing requirements by the Ministry of Health’s agency, the Medical Device Authority (MDA), as well as the MDA’s more stringent requirements for device (product) certification.

Moreover, there also are more stringent requirements governing the wearing, removal and disposal of surgical gloves, including requirements that once worn before surgery, the surgeon and surgery assistants must keep their hands above their waist to maintain their sterile status, failing which they lose their sterile status and have to re-sterilise. This could explain scenes from those medical television series where surgeons walk with their hands held up in front of their chest.

On the other hand, examination gloves are the more common type of medical gloves available in pharmacies. The are not sterile but are clean, and their primary purposes is to serve as a barrier against the transfer of pathogens between patients and caregivers in hospital wards, medical clinics and dentistries, where any bodily contact is only at skin level.

Examination gloves are also used by food handlers to prevent transfer of pathogens to the food being handled, by supermarket cashiers who handle cash and so forth. Also, unlike surgical gloves, examination gloves are ambidextrous – I.E. they can be worn on either hand and come packed in boxes similar to tissues.

Their handling during packing are done under less stringent conditions similar to the packing of other manufactured products, they need to meet less stringent international standards, the MDA licensing requirements of their production facilities and MDA device certification requirements are less stringent, and there are much less strict requirements, if any, governing their wearing, use and disposal.

Thus, examination gloves are the more common and widely used type of medical gloves, especially during the height of the pandemic, and the majority of gloves made by Malaysia’s glove makers, including those listed on Bursa Malaysia are examination gloves, though some of them also make surgical gloves.

On the other hand, examination gloves are the more common type of medical gloves available in pharmacies. The are not sterile but are clean, and their primary purposes is to serve as a barrier against the transfer of pathogens between patients and caregivers in hospital wards, medical clinics and dentistries, where any bodily contact is only at skin level.

So whilst they benefited hugely from the increased demand especially for examination gloves during the worst of the pandemic and reported huge leaps in quarterly revenue and profits, whilst the shares of listed glove makers shot up.

They also ramped up their production capacity, whilst new players, especially in examination gloves production jumped on the bandwagon to grab a slice of the medical gloves pie, and the glove makers were charging three or four times the pre-pandemic average selling price (ASP) for their gloves.

However, when the severity of the pandemic eased, glove makers ended up with surplus production capacity, an oversupply (glut) of inventories and market forces which drove down the ASP even below pre-pandemic levels, resulting in slim profit margins or even a losses.

According to some reports, Malaysia’s medical gloves industry expects to clear their surplus inventory sometime in the second half of 2023, before the glove ASP returns to more normal levels.

Thus EITN believes that surgical glove makers, such as Mölnlycke, were not as badly impacted, if at all, by the steep increase in demand for medical gloves, in general, during the worst of the pandemic and the subsequent oversupply when it eased.