Can A Chinese Battery Company Also Make Good Quality Face Masks?

On March 13, China's leading battery company BYD announced it was creating a factory that when running at full capacity would be able to produce 5 million masks and 300,000 bottles of disinfectants per day. The company, which has a large minority investment from America's Berkshire Hathaway, appeared to announce the impossible.

But doing things differently and at scale is in BYD's DNA. The company was founded to create innovative products at a time when the business world was tepid about entering the cleantech space. On February 8, the company says its newly-built production lines in one of BYD's industrial parks in Shenzhen started to produce these critical PPE supplies, with hundreds of staff working both day and night shifts along with machines working around the clock. In late January, BYD says it began to assist in the production of masks and disinfection gels to tackle the growing COVID-19 outbreak. A special task force was appointed by BYD Chairman and President Wang Chuanfu, consisting of leaders from different business divisions and more than 3,000 engineers involved in research and development, design, processing and other roles.

BYD's strong R&D capabilities, combined with its manufacturing facilities and creativity, have enabled the firm to mass-produce quality masks in a short period of time, reflecting its unremitting efforts throughout the epidemic. Mask production requires impeccably clean and sterile environments and equipment, and BYD's dust-free rooms, previously used for the assembly of smartphones, are particularly well-suited for this. During the Chinese New Year period, the company says it was unable to obtain mask-making equipment rapidly enough, so it set about making its own machines. BYD now claims it can make more than a dozen of these machines a day.

"For BYD's electronics business, the high-end mobile phones that we produce have high requirements in terms of quality, waterproofing and other aspects. This also comes with our high standards for molds, automated equipment, manufacturing processes, and more," said Zhao Jianping, general manager of BYD's Quality Division. "In other words, the equipment that we already have offers precision and quality that is much higher than what is commonly required to produce masks."

For importers of China-made masks, having the Berkshire Hathaway connection assists in ameliorating worries about product quality.

"We received specific requests from both government and institutional buyers to source BYD-made masks in China," says Danny Levinson, chief operating officer of U.S.-based GreatBarrierMasks.com. "They appreciated that, first, this was a Warren Buffett-backed company; two, that BYD appeared early in the CDC's 'Appendix A' document that approves non-NIOSH face masks; and three, that BYD was a legitimate manufacturer and not a sales agent for others."

Levinson says that though he tried to source directly from BYD, he was told that the company was first focused on manufacturing for domestic Chinese consumption.

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