Intaj Suhar explores alliance to sustain Covid-19 safety gear output

Having pioneered the mass production of low-cost, high-quality face visors through the use of injection moulding technology, Intaj Suhar – the industrial innovation hub based at Sohar University – is forging an alliance with key Omani players to support the sustainable production of critical personal protection gear for local consumption and export over the long term.

The move comes as Intaj Suhar ramps up production of an initial order of 12,000 face visors earmarked for distribution to healthcare workers and first responders on the frontline of the Sultanate’s drive to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Prof Ghassan al Kindi

According to Prof Ghassan al Kindi, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Sohar University and Director of Intaj-Suhar, an Omani SME has been roped in to handle the assembly, packaging and marketing of the face visors – an arrangement that will help speed up the distribution of the desperately needed protective items.

“We have signed an agreement with Almasafah Trading following which the assembly of the face visor, as well as associated marketing and logistics, is now being undertaken by them.  This division of labour not only brings down overall production costs, but dramatically speeds up delivery of face visors to clinics and hospitals around the country.  Besides, it allows us to focus on other higher-tech ‘Made in Oman’ products that are crucial in the nation’s fight against the pandemic.”

Further, with a view to streamlining and optimising the mass production of face visors for both national and overseas markets over the long term, Intaj Suhar is exploring a partnership with a leading polymer production export unit based in Salalah Free Zone, said Prof Al Kindi.

The goal, says the scientist, is to tap the free zone company’s injection moulding capabilities in mass producing high-quality face visors and other protective items. Also supporting the initiative is OQ (formerly Oman Oil and Orpic Group), which is a local producer of polymer – a key ingredient for the face visor.

“Matters are still under discussion at this stage, but once we have an agreement, we will approach the Ministry of Health for guidance on quality specifications and quantities required to help us with planning the long-term requirements of the country.  We also see the potential to supply foreign markets through this partnership,” he added.

Significantly, Intaj Suhar is adding new products to its portfolio of COVID-19 innovations:

Oxygen connecting valve: In collaboration with Makers Oman – an R&D lab located within Innovation Park Muscat (IPM) at Rusayl – Intaj Suhar has fabricated a prototype of an oxygen connector valve, described as a critical device in hospitals and Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

According to Prof Ghassan, the Sultanate has long been dependent on imports for this small, but indispensable item, which helps channel oxygen gas into life support systems in hospitals.

“We have now produced the first functional prototype of an oxygen connector valve using tool grade steel. Makers Oman, as part of our collaboration, will have it tested in a hospital before we commence mass production of this high-precision item. They are putting together a proposal to secure funding support. Oman’s annual requirement is estimated at around 1,000 such devices over the next five years.”

Foot-press sanitiser pump: A simple, low-tech innovation, this device does away with the need for someone to use their hands to operate a sanitiser dispenser and thus avoid any risk of exposure to coronavirus infection. Instead, a foot-press can be operated to depress the dispenser knob every time.

“Intaj Suhar is willing to share the technique of fabricating these foot-operated devices, which can be made for less than RO 5 apiece,” he added.