The Wild West of Face Masks, by Ilja Bonsen.


In March IB Consultancy entered the world of Corona Face Mask trading in an effort to support our first responders with proper protection against the Corona virus. In this article, we will share some of the stories and most importantly, lessons learned from our month in the KN95 business.   

Through our extensive network, IB Consultancy came in contact with a company that could deliver KN95 masks to The Netherlands. Although the price seemed a bit steep at USD3,00 per mask we put the deal forward to the procurement people at the Joint Hospital Procurement Alliance in The Netherlands led by Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. In the early morning of March 18th, we used a video call to inspect the stock of KN95 masks. One of the local representatives of our agent visited a number of factories and allowed us to guide him through the inspection using a WeChat Video call. Based on this inspection, the seller would be paid 4,5 million USD for the masks. 

To prepare for the video inspection, we spoke with multiple experts and decided on the following list of quality criteria: 

  1. Check if the mask fits the face of the person checking, 
  2. See if there are any loose threads on the mask, 
  3. Hold the mask against the light and see if the filter material is spread evenly, 
  4. Ask to stretch the mask to check for consistency and holes, and see how easy it breaks, 
  5. Drop some droplets of water on the mask and check how fast it moves through the material, 
  6. Check for any QAQC (Quality Assurance Quality Control) reports from the manufacturer, the last lot test report and any other documentation. 

Lessons learned on the quality of masks :

  1. Unless you are buying a rutable branded mask (like 3M), you cannot trust certificates. Even when buying from a certified CE/FFP2 or N95 factory, there is a good chance that the factory will have a “secondary” production facility that produces masks that look the same, or that the factory will simply buy whatever products to fulfill its orders. 
  2. Measuring is knowing: Test samples from each batch of masks that you buy. Do the tests preferably close to the manufacturer (there are contract test labs in China), and otherwise in your country. If you don’t have access to a full lab, invest in simple test equipment to at least test the filter efficiency of the mask material.
  3. If you are buying 3M or similar brands, ask for documentation showing where the seller got the goods. To avoid getting fake masks, you don’t need to wait in line at 3M for 6 months, but you do need to check if the goods have a proper and logic trace from the factory. 

Read the full article here.