First new mask machine arrives at Med-Con near Shepparton

By Spencer Fowler Steen

The first of several new mask-making machines built in Echuca has arrived at Australia's only mask manufacturer, Med-Con, near Shepparton, heralding a boost for local jobs and industry.

The extra seven machines will increase Med-Con's annual production from two million to a staggering 160 million masks a year, with delivery of the first 60 million to the Federal Government by November.

Project Med-Con, which has seen a 40-year-old machine design reverse-engineered and recreated within eight weeks, has its first ‘new’ machine installed in its new home.

Med-Con operations manager Ray Stockwell said thanks to a $4 million Federal Government grant, Med-Con along with machine-building company Foodmach in Echuca, were making seven machines in the time they were originally tasked with making three.

“It's been nothing short of miraculous,” Mr Stockwell said.

“We get one machine delivered a week, delivered from now.”

Less than three months ago, Med-Con had just 14 staff, but in the next six weeks Med-Con will employ a total of 98 people from the Greater Shepparton region.

Once the Federal Government's contract ends in December, Med-Con would produce an ongoing 10 million masks a year for five years with the option of extending another five years, Mr Stockwell said.

Med-Con is currently pumping out 130 000 masks a day; the new machine will boost that number up to 175 000 a day.

But it has not been completely smooth sailing for the company.

Mr Stockwell said on Thursday the Turkish government decided to put Med-Con's materials into quarantine, which meant they missed a flight.

“Problems with supply lines are an ongoing issue — one of my team spends his whole day making sure supplies are running on track,” he said.

Recently, Med-Con received high praise from the Industry Minister Karen Andrews who commended Med-Con's reaction during the pandemic.

In response, Mr Stockwell pointed to the efforts of Med-Con's original founder, Shepparton's Joe Carmody, who is now 92 years old.

“Joe was the wizard,” he said.

“He was the original founder of the Med-Con business and was instrumental in getting us up and running — it's really a testament to Joe.”

Mr Stockwell said Med-Con had already doubled factory space ahead of schedule.

“The support we've been given from all levels of government has been absolutely phenomenal and it's certainly a testament to the staff at Foodmach too,” he said.

Since acquiring the surge capacity for mask making, Med-Con has been supplying state governments around Australia, and is now looking at international export options.