Intaj-Suhar, the first of its kind ‘dies and moulds’ project operating under the auspices of Sohar University, is preparing to ramp up production of face visors for distribution to first responders on the frontlines of Oman’s battle to control the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
With support from OQ (formerly Oman Oil and Orpic Group), the industrial innovation hub plans to produce around 12,000 face visors to help meet the Sultanate’s requirements of this critical piece of personal protective equipment (PPE).
But unlike an array of locally manufactured face shields produced by a number of Omani tech start-ups, Intaj-Suhar’s face visor is cost-competitive, takes a fraction of the time associated with 3D-printed versions, and is fully Omani in its design, development and material use, according to a key scientist associated with the initiative.
Prof Ghassan al Kindi (pictured), Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Sohar University and Director of Intaj-Suhar, said: “Our face visors exemplify the capabilities of Inta-Suhar, which was set up in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as an initiative of The National Programme for Enhancing Economic Diversification (Tanfeedh). From the design of the mould and the product, and the development of the manufacturing process, coupled with the use of locally produced raw materials, this initiative is ‘Made in Oman’ in its entirety.”
On Thursday, Intaj-Suhar delivered a batch of around 300 face visors for use by healthcare staff of Sohar Hospital – representing the first output from its operations. The plant is now gearing up to produce around 400 – 500 visors per day which, in a couple of weeks, should generate enough volumes to meet Oman’s immediate requirements, Prof Al Kindi noted.
Speaking to the Observer, the technologist outlined a number of features that gives Intaj-Suhar’s face visors a significant edge over locally produced, 3D-printed alternatives. “Firstly, it takes less than two minutes to produce the main part of Intaj-Suhar’s face visor, versus 60 – 90 minutes for a 3D printed version; secondly, our product is cheaper by a factor of eight; and thirdly, we use locally produced polypropylene as the main ingredient, while 3D-printed visors depend on imported materials.”
Wholly government-owned OQ – the Sultanate’s refining and petrochemicals powerhouse – has extended key support to Intaq-Suhar in its endeavour, according to Prof Al Kindi. The company donated some machinery along with technical staff to help with its installation and commissioning at Intaj Suhar. Additionally, it contributed 500 kilos of polypropylene as raw material for the face visors.
Despite the odds, the Intaj-Suhar team was able to kick off trial production in less than a week — which was a record of sorts for a dies-and-moulds project anywhere in the world, said Prof Al Kindi. “This is indeed a success story for Oman’s efforts to create indigenous capabilities in product design and prototyping,” he noted.
The industrial innovation hub is now offering its face visors to first responders, including the Ministry of Health. To support the mass production of the gear, Intaj-Suhar has roped in local SMEs to help with the assembly of the visors, while it can focus its energies on the production of higher tech products, he added.