Deltrian. This name may ring a bell… it’s the company which, in the midst of the first wave of Covid, was commissioned by the Walloon government to produce masks on a large scale. At the height of the epidemic, one and a half million masks came out of the Fleurus factory every week. Now, the reality is quite different, the production lines are almost at a standstill.
The few orders come from hospitals. They make it possible to maintain the machines so as not to lose the tool. In front of the stopped machines, even the CEO of Deltrian, Timothée De Greift, has a hint of bitterness.
“It hurts my heart because two years ago, we had about thirty people who worked daily to produce masks for the Belgian population and for Belgian hospitals. It was a great adventure in which we believed, in which we invested a lot, and today it hurts. It’s all on hold.”
The return of competition
Whose fault is it ? Well, the fault of the mask market quite simply. Asian prices are impossible to compete with…despite the great promises of orders or Walloon strategic stock from the first confinement. In the meantime, the investment has not yet paid off. And the company is at a turning point. Given the lack of orders, should we definitely stop production, sell the machines to recover the investment? or maintain the installation probably at a loss?
The company approached the Walloon government, which had injected money at the time… can the government ensure the company enough orders to keep this mask production force in Belgium? In other words, have we learned the lesson of strategic production capacity, of covid?
“I don’t know if we learned the lesson, replies Thimothée De Greift. This is the question that arises now and this is why we are in contact with the Walloon government, to see how to really learn these lessons and perpetuate a production capacity, a strategic production reserve on the Walloon territory.
And the strategic tool?
The Walloon government, its Economy Minister Willy Borsus, would like to keep the tool active… but at what cost? And in compliance with the rules of the public market. Besides, the machines are there, but the staff have left… which could be a problem in the event of a sudden new pandemic.
“We would have to rehire, take on staff and retrain them, continues the CEO. It would take a little time for that to manage to find a team of about thirty people to run these four machines full time, six to seven days a week. That should be manageable within two to three weeks by training our teams at a very high rate.”
Two and a half years after the health crisis, after announcements and promises, Deltrian is once again facing the logic of the market: that where the prices of Asian products make it impossible to relocate essential production to Belgium.