Unterschleissheim, 14.05.2020: Companies currently have to face completely new challenges with regard to the protection of employees in order to maintain their operations. Among other things, minimum distances must be maintained and employees must be equipped with appropriate safety equipment. For Keller & Kalmbach, C-parts specialist and expert for efficient C-parts logistics, the latter has been a major focus of attention for the last few months. Considerable effort has been put into supplying customers with mouth and nose masks that meet the required quality standards. But how did it come to the range and quality level that the medium-sized family business can supply today? In an interview with Werner Hochreiner, Keller & Kalmbach takes a look behind the scenes of product management and looks back at a time when many things were turned upside down. The company also sheds light on the subject of certificates, which plays a decisive role in the procurement of mouth and nose masks.
Werner Hochreiner, Product and market manager at Keller & Kalmbach
Even before Corona, occupational safety articles and disinfectants were an integral part of the product portfolio. When did you realize in product management that the range of products had to be quickly expanded to include special articles?
In mid-January, we recorded high demand for FFP2 and FFP3 masks from our customers for their plants in China. Although the market suddenly emptied, we were still able to supply at first, as we and our regular suppliers had a corresponding stock. After the masks produced in China were needed in our own country, we procured our articles in Europe and delivered them to China.
What was the new product range for mouth and nose masks?
We were able to supply our customers with FFP masks until mid-February. After that, our warehouse was sold out and there were no more product offers in both the EU and China. In addition, there were more and more trade restrictions, some of which are still in place today. On March 16, the EU Commission's recommendation 2020/403 opened up new procurement channels for us again, as it was now possible to import non-CE-certified goods. The recommendation of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health finally assigned the different mask designs to the respective area of application on March 30th. From this date on, non-medical or textile masks were officially sufficient for most industrial companies, which was also reflected in changed requests from our customers. As a result, FFP masks became available again, which were urgently needed for medicine and care.
Together with our Chinese colleagues, the product management formed an internal corona task force, which dealt intensively with mouth and nose masks and built up, in a short time, a great deal of knowledge on this subject, which should help us in the further product selection. Everyone became an expert in his own field - be it for certificates, auditing suppliers, product quality, handling deliveries from China or the changing regulations and recommendations of the federal and state governments. Within this task force, we were now able to define suppliers who could supply us in the long term with mouth and nose masks that are certified according to Chinese standards and comply with the recommendations of the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The processing of our first order for masks was also exceptional. In order to obtain a production slot for three million mouth and nose masks, our branch in Taicang had to pay in advance locally, which is unusual for us even in China.
What problems did you face with customs clearance or delivery?
Customs clearance was not a big problem thanks to the support of our Chinese colleagues, the commitment of the purchasing department and our export and customs officer. Nevertheless, it was necessary to improvise from time to time. For example, changes in customs controls meant that we had to repack or relabel goods. In some cases, deliveries of goods were even split up so that they could be dispatched more quickly. Orders also had to be prioritised. Improvisation was required in many situations anyway, and good teamwork and interdisciplinary cooperation with service providers and suppliers was and is more important than ever to remain agile. One mammoth task, for example, was to ship the goods from China to Germany. On the one hand, many airports in China were no longer active, and on the other hand, flight costs exploded - they quadrupled in a very short time. In the medium term we are aiming for delivery by ship or rail.
The sales department also suddenly had to deal with a new product portfolio in order to maintain the quality of advice. How did you prepare the employees for this?
Training sessions took place exclusively via video conference. In addition, a weekly newsletter provides information about our products and the current status of availability. Despite the initially unclarified delivery situation, our sales department was always active and recorded a corresponding number of orders. With the arrival of the first delivery, all items were promptly sold out. Delivery quantities therefore had to be allocated at short notice and not all customers received a complete delivery. In addition, our sales department showed great initiative when the focus was not only on industrial companies, but also approached our suppliers to ensure that they were equipped with mouth and nose masks and disinfectants. This was a win-win situation, because if our suppliers were able to continue production under appropriate protective measures, our procurement of goods was also secured. In the meantime, we are now able to constantly serve all orders.
Let us profit from your experience in the last months: What should companies pay attention to when purchasing masks and what products does Keller & Kalmbach offer in this context?
As a matter of principle, companies should follow the recommendations of the federal and state governments to refrain from using medical products, because personal protective equipment is required above all in the medical field. For all other needs, mouth and nose masks and textile masks are sufficient. Our experience shows that the assessment of certifications is difficult. Products are often labelled with false names and contain supposed certificates that are worthless. Half-masks, such as a KN95, should always have a stamp indicating the manufacturer, type and standard. Stamping with two types or two standards should always be treated with caution. There have been a lot of reports on this subject in the media. Even government agencies have found that the delivered goods did not meet the requirements. In the meantime, the responsible authorities have provided overviews of questionable test institutes and their certificates. In general: Certificates or test reports must be issued by authorised test institutes and must be clearly attributable to an article or manufacturer. In addition, the product must be adequately marked. If this is observed, it is also possible to buy according to foreign standards, as comparable standards to those in Europe are established in China, for example. We have an overview of the authorized testing agencies in China and Europe. We will be pleased to advise our customers if they have any questions, because product quality can only be determined on the basis of test reports. Accordingly, we offer two certified and tested mouth and nose masks according to Chinese standard GB/T 32610-2016 (mouth-nose mask/OP mask) and GB 2626-2006 (filtering half mask KN95). My tip: If a product is certified twice, you should be vigilant.
What is your summary of recent times - shaped by the coronavirus?
As a family business with flat hierarchies, we are used to taking short paths and making quick decisions. But the last few weeks and months have forced us to think like a start-up and to act with a speed and adaptability that is unique in our company's history to date. At the same time, however, we wanted to maintain our processes and deliver the quality our customers have come to expect. This is where our experience as a trading company shows how valuable it is. Not every process has to be implemented new and we can rely on the expertise of our employees. Anyone familiarising themselves with a new field of knowledge knows that time is an important factor - but we lacked that completely. That's where the interdisciplinary and agile structure of our product management came in handy. Especially against the background of short-time work and a very high proportion of home offices, this worked out excellently. I am very proud that we have found good ways to provide our customers with the best possible service in these challenging times. We were only able to achieve this thanks to the enormous commitment of everyone involved. It has also been worthwhile that we have dealt meticulously with standards and certificates. So we have gained a lot of experience during this time, from which we will continue to benefit in the future.
What else would you like to share with the readers of this interview?
Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge and experience we have built up. We will be happy to help you choose the right products to keep your business running. And trust that we will all overcome this crisis together if we work together as partners and demonstrate resilience. Please also note that it is essential that minimum distances and hygiene measures continue to be maintained to reduce the transmission of pathogens. Mouth and nose masks and disinfectants can only help in a supportive way. However, when choosing products, I strongly recommend that you take your time and deal with the topic well. In the long term, this is enormously worthwhile.
Werner Hochreiner has been working for Keller & Kalmbach since 2013. In his function as product and market manager, he always has the market firmly in his sights. Photo: Sabine Freudenberger
This mouth-nose-mask is certified according to the GB/T 32610-2016 standard and is therefore subject to constant quality controls and raw material tests. It is a disposable mask. Photo: Markus Bormann
This mouth-nose-mask is certified according to standard GB 2626-2006 and is therefore subject to constant quality controls and raw material tests. It is a disposable mask. Photo: Markus Bormann
The textile mask consists of 100% organic cotton, is 1-ply and washable up to 95°. It is a reusable mask.
Photo: Markus Bormann