Our founder, Lily Liu, interviewed Bob Wen, the CEO of Makrite, to get a better understanding of the world of NIOSH N95 manufacturers. Makrite is a Taiwan-based manufacturer of N95s that are distributed under the Makrite name, and also the OEM for many name brand retail providers of N95s in the United States.
Lily: Bob, it’s been a busy year for you. On top of producing one of the most globally coveted items of 2020, NIOSH N95s, Makrite has been on the move changing the market with new product. Tell us how Makrite adapted in the early days of the pandemic to accommodate increased demand.
Bob: Yes it's definitely been a busy year. China began seeing the coronavirus in late 2019 and from that time onward we increased production substantially. China is the world’s largest PPE exporter and we are among the dozen plus NIOSH approved manufacturers of N95s. Even now we are adapting to changes in the market demand. It used to be that we dedicated a small fraction of our factory space to producing smaller sized N95s, but we are increasing that now based on more requests for smaller masks. I think this is because the users of N95s have changed. It used to be mostly industrial users - who are usually men, with larger faces. Now in healthcare, you not only have more people using N95s, but different people as well, with different face shapes.
Lily: So it’s safe to say it’s been a year of growth. What’s been the hardest part of managing that mega growth as one of the top suppliers in the world for N95s?
Bob: Market changes are hard for everyone. We’re lucky that we have been investing for years in fostering internal talent within Makrite to meet the demand of this growth. Also, we’ve been investing for years in research and development to design and manufacture new and better masks. The mask might seem like a simple product, but there are many details to get just right. Not all meltblown material is the same. We use the best material that filters without sacrificing breathability. Getting the molds and processes right so that the 9601 can be molded, foldable, and also affordable all at the same time is a challenge. Despite the demand surge and capacity growth efforts we needed to turn our attention to in 2020, I’m proud of our team that we could bring our new products to market as well this year.
Lily: Certainly if there is a year that we need improved product, it's this year. We feel fortunate to have access to what is, in our mind, some of the best N95s on the market. From what we saw, Makrite is truly the most innovative mask producer in the disposable N95 market. We hear regular complaints from frontline workers, often women in particular, who can’t find a mask that fits comfortably for all-day wear. What you guys are doing —making masks with a silicone seal, adjustable head straps as a baseline requirement, a foldable cup-shaped mask—will go a long way to helping frontline folks. Tell us about the thinking behind your new products.
Bob: You’re welcome for the masks, I’m so glad you liked them. As you have noted before, the use case of disposable N95s has changed. Whereas it used to be a lower frequency and 2-3 hour wear item, now it’s a daily, all-day wear item for many medical professionals. That means comfort needs to increase, and so does breathability. We’ve invested substantial effort in ensuring that we have the most breathable and protective meltblown on the market. The silicone seal on the 9800-N95 that you mentioned speaks to the need for easier decontamination, comfort, a tight seal, and also something attractive that appeals to consumer. The foldable cup-shaped Makrite 9601 that you mention incorporates market feedback that some folks prefer the cupshape feel but those can be easily damaged. Adjustable headbands such as on the Makrite 801 - that’s just common sense. We also wanted to make beautiful masks. Now that people are wearing masks all day, every day, whether you’re a healthcare professional or even a consumer, people are covering half of their face. They want something that looks good.
[Read: The Latest in N95 Innovation]
Lily: We’ve gotten great feedback from clients on your Makrite 801 foldable mask as well as the Makrite 9601. In fact, my sister and her husband are doctors. My brother-in-law loves the 9601 so much that I have to keep those under lock and key at my house!
Bob: Haha, that’s great to hear. We tend to hear feedback that now that folks need to wear these all day, they appreciate the breathability of the new masks.
Lily: Makrite has been the actual manufacturer behind many brand names we buy here in the US - like Home Depot, Cardinal Health, and Medline. It looks like Makrite is looking to continue to do that but also become a brand name itself. Would you agree with that?
Bob: We need to do both. We will always be a higher volume OEM channel, we’ve been doing that for decades. At the same time, we need the speed and flexibility to bring new products to market. We see the opportunity to make better products and better serve our customers. Doing that under our own brand name gives us the speed and flexibility we need.
Lily: As we wrap up here... what supply chain threats keep you up at night?
Bob: Truly I just focus on what I can control. High quality, consistent product with strong communication down our partnership channels to help avoid hiccups in supply. Counterfeiting has been a headache for the whole PPE industry, but the best thing we can do to stay on top of that is work with trustworthy partners, and be transparent and communicative in calling out fraud where we see it.
Lily: Thanks so much for your time, Bob.
Bob: Thank you.