How cotton buds brand Tulips pivoted to make polyester swabs for Covid testing

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani/TV Jayan | | Updated on: May 20, 2020

A health official collects swab samples from a pregnant woman to test for Covid-19, in Srinagar (file photo). - PTI

Suparshva Swabs, known for its hygiene products brand Tulips, is set to ramp up its capacity to make 5 million polyester swabs per week, which are critical for Covid-19 testing, by May-end.

The company, which is known for products such as cotton buds and wet wipes, has already supplied over 4.2 million swabs to VTM (viral transport medium) kit makers.

Rahul Jain, Partner, Suparshava Swabs, said the company was approached by government authorities in April to look into making specialised synthetic nasal and throat swabs. The company then swung into action to reconfigure its equipment and convert some of its cotton processing lines to make polyester swabs, with limited resources and workforce in the early stages of the lockdown. But it managed to achieve it in 10 days, said Jain.

To expand capacity

“We have the largest installed capacity in Asia to make cotton buds. We began manufacturing these specialised polyester swabs from the day we got approval from the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), on May 5. Currently, 10 per cent of the capacity is being used to make Covid polyester swabs and we are currently making 2 million swabs per week. By May-end we would be able to convert an additional 10 per cent of capacity to be able to produce 5 million swabs in a week,” Jain told BusinessLine.

The company has focussed on various features for its polyester swabs, such as elongated sticks to ensure medics maintain adequate distance while taking samples, and thin swabs so that they are flexible enough for both nasopharyngeal and oropharnygeal samples.

One of the key challenges in scaling up for the company has been that the production rate for Covid polyester swabs is much lower compared to cotton buds on the same lines.

Lower-cost products

“As testing ramps up further in the country, we have the ability to make 30 million swaps per week. We believe by June-end we can achieve this. Due to high demand for these swabs globally, imported swabs are priced currently in the range of ₹20-40. In comparison, the cost of our domestically-produced swabs is ₹3.5 per swab. As we increase capacity, we believe the cost can be brought down further,” said Jain.

In many other markets such as the US and the France, cotton bud makers have managed to pivot their manufacturing capabilities to make specialised swabs for Covid-19 testing. “We have already been approached by international agencies and kit makers to supply these swabs to them. Our key focus for now is to ensure domestic demand is fulfilled and then we may look at exports,” he added.

The FMCG company, however, does not believe this will become its core business in the long term.

Set up in 1998, Suparshva Swabs claims to be one of the leading manufacturer and exporters of cotton and wood based personal hygiene products such as cotton buds, cotton pads, facial tissues, baby wipes and absorbent cotton rolls.

Published on May 20, 2020
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

You May Also Like

Recommended for you