Pivot and Persist: Saral Designs repurposes sanitary napkin machines to produce masks amid coronavirus
After two months of lockdown, India has now entered the first phase of “unlock” and is looking for ways to co-exist with the novel coronavirus. At a time when people are starting to leave their houses, safety precautions are more important than ever.
Innovators across the country are trying to come up with ways to fight the pandemic and safe. One such company is Mumbai-based Saral Designs, which has repurposed its sanitary napkin-making machine to manufacture masks.
Mumbai-based Saral Designs was founded in 2015 by IIT-Bombay and Madras alumni Suhani Mohan and Kartik Mehta to solve the problem of menstrual hygiene for women.
The company developed a fully automatic and compact machine to enable decentralised production of sanitary napkins. The startup is aimed at increasing awareness about menstrual hygiene and helping women from non-urban areas, who don't have access to high-cost menstrual products.
“Since college days, I wanted to develop innovative products that will make a social impact. After quitting my job at General Motors, I was building machines for some packaging companies but I wanted to build something that would have social impact. This is when I met Suhani, who gave me insights about menstrual hygiene-related problems and how women did not have access to necessary products,” Kartik tells YourStory.
Using SWACCH for making masks
After researching, Kartik and Suhani realised that existing players in the women’s hygiene space did not have deep reach into rural areas while local sanitary napkin-producing units were barely sustainable due to the manual process.
The duo launched Saral Designs to come up with semi-automatic and automatic machines named SWACHH for decentralised production of sanitary napkins. Currently, the company has five variants of the machine: SWACHH 1.2, SWACHH 3.0, SWACHH 4.0, SWACHH 5.0 and SWACHH 7.0. The company has two Indian patents for the technology.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led the founders to realise that there would be an increased demand for masks.
“In March, we repurposed SWACHH 7.0, a fully-automatic machine, to only produce 3-ply surgical masks,” Kartik says. The machine can produce 40 masks per minute.
Kartik added that the company also repurposed its SWACHH 4.0 machine to produce both sanitary napkins and masks together.
Saral Designs says the machine is easy to operate and can be deployed at several sites for decentralised manufacturing of masks.
Kartik explains that the lockdown was making it difficult for the company to go on with mask production. “We reached out to Anand Mahindra for help and they agreed to help us out. In April, we moved the machines to the Mahindra unit in Kandivali and began production. Till date, we have distributed more than a million masks across hospitals in Mumbai and to frontline workers,” Kartik says.
Most of the masks were distributed through Mahindra and Mahindra’s CSR.
Business and more
The price of the mask ranges between Rs 4 and 10, depending upon the quality. Kartik says the idea is to make the masks available at a lower price for wider reach.
The company has also joined hands with Marico Innovation Foundation and received a grant of Rs 40,00,000 to ramp up production and distribute another million masks.
Speaking about the business model, Kartik says the company works with local NGOs or the government to set up the SWACHH manufacturing machines and provide them a “business-in-a-box” solution.
Under this, Saral Designs supplies the clients with raw materials, trains their staff on operating and maintaining the machine, and helps them build a women-driven, last mile distribution network.
The company has deployed its sanitary napkin machines at 30 sites across the country and shipped five machines abroad.
The price of the machine can range from Rs 45 to 60 lakh, depending upon the features. Currently, one of its existing clients, Desai Foundation (Mumbai), is deploying the mask-making machine.
Speaking about future plans, Kartik says the company is currently looking for grant support and might later opt for VC funding. “We are looking for grant-based support. Once the lockdown is over, we will re-evaluate and then scout for investors to scale up our operations.”
Going forward, Saral Designs plans to use its machines to decentralise production in other verticals such as diapers.
YourStory’s Pivot and Persist series spotlights Indian startups that are pivoting to seize new business opportunities, transforming their business models and offerings to navigate the current COVID-19 crisis.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai