By Lt Gen A B Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd): Indian Ordnance Factories are the oldest and largest industrial setup which functions under Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) with the primary objective of achieving self-reliance in equipping the armed forces with state-of-the-art battlefield equipment. The Ordnance Factories were essentially born to serve the war effort of the armies of the state and have played a crucial role in every skirmish, battle and war since the days of the East-India Company, the British empire and independent India, including the Kargil crisis and the recent surgical strikes. However, the ongoing pandemic has opened a new front, a war of a different kind and emergence of a new set of warriors for the nation.
The war against Covid–19 was a new challenge for the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) , albeit with demand for a highly compressed time cycle from concept to product of a totally different nature. OFB transformed with resolve, to overcome this challenge to arm the nation’s warriors, only this time the soldiers were different ie Doctors, Health Workers, Law authorities and all frontline agencies combating Covid-19. The initiation was a high level consultation by GoI to work a strategy for combating Corona by the nation. It involved a whole of nation approach. It was during a video conference chaired by the Cabinet Secretary which included the Chairman Railway Board, the Director General and Chairman of the OFB and the Chairman of ISRO on the 24th of March, that the strategy of the national war effort emerged and took shape. There was no looking back for Team OFB thereafter. From contributing to fight against Conventional Warfare, OFB transformed into a force combating Germ Warfare. Overnight it reoriented and realigned with resolve into a Corona Warrior. The mantra based on a proactive approach was centered on 3C’s – 1. Care for all its Employees; 2. Create and Reorient existing facilities / infrastructure to combat Corona; 3. Contribute to the national effort by time critical R&D and war like production effort oriented towards fighting Corona.
What followed was a blitzkrieg of video conferences and brainstorming between the Chairman, Senior Officers of the OFB and the General Managers of the forty-one Ordnance Factories. Team OFB had got into action for its untiring fight against the pandemic with absolute synergy between the apex decision makers, the Board Members, Advisors and the Executers. Almost ten thousand minutes of video conferencing spread over nineteen days, totaling about one and a half million man-minutes, led to a realignment of production process to produce new products to fight the virus. The DGOF and Chairman of OFB, Shri Hari Mohan led Team OFB from the front with his transformation vision and provided a platform for the exercise of initiative and innovation at all levels. It was a combination of empowerment, lateral and out of the box thinking and disciplined execution within strict timelines by Team OFB.
These efforts led to important developments in a number of areas. The factories under the Ammunition and Explosives group of the OFB quickly commenced the bulk manufacture of hand sanitizer against initial order of seventy thousand liters placed by Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL) which was appointed as the nodal agency for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) by the Government of India and the first consignment was flagged off remotely from Kolkata on the 31st of March by the DGOF and Chairman/OFB, Shri Hari Mohan, as it left the gates of the historic Cordite Factory Aruvankadu near Ooty in Tamilnadu for an HLL facility at Tiruvanthapuram. Subsequently production also started at the Ordnance Factory Bhandara, near Nagpur and the Ordnance Factory Itarsi in M.P.
The success of hand sanitizer was simultaneously followed by the development of the Tent medical 2M by the Ordnance Equipment Factory at Kanpur. The tent is a light-weight, low-cost, readily deployable single fly tent with an area of 9.55 square meters which can contain two beds and all the necessary equipment for patients requiring isolation for the purpose of quarantine. This tent has been supplied to the Governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha the Punjab Police and the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi. The tent has been appreciated by Shri Kiren Rijiju, the Minister of State of Youth Affairs and Sport also of Minority Affairs and the Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Arunachal Pradesh as expressed in his tweet on the 14th of April.
Alongside with the success of the tent, the Ordnance Factories took up the production of the coverall required by the health care workers attending to patients. As reported in media, many kits made in China, the world’s main supplier, that were donated to the Indian government, were supposedly found unusable because they failed safety checks. Of 170,000 Chinese PPE kits that arrived in India on April 5, about 50,000 failed quality tests. The solution thus lied in the solution to Fight and Win Covid 19, by indigenous capabilities. OFB thus undertook this challenge head on and produced the desired quality PPE. The coverall is a single use PPE made of non- woven poly spun bonded fabric which is required to be absolutely impermeable to blood and other bodily fluids conforming to standards laid down by the American Society of Testing of materials (ASTM)and the International Standards Organisation (ISO). The key constraint was that the facility of administering the blood penetration test, wherein the fabric is tested using synthetic blood at predetermined pressures for specified periods of time, were available only with the South Indian Textile Research Institute (SITRA) and with DRDE at Gwalior. OFB took up this challenge in a mission mode at multiple locations and within a space of a fortnight conceived, designed and produced machines to administer this test. On the 11th of April, the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Chennai and the Small Arms Factory at Kanpur obtained accreditation from the NABL for their facilities. On the 13th of April the first consignment of coverall against an initial order of 01.10 lakh coveralls left the Ordnance Clothing Factory at Avadi for an HLL facility. On the 17th of April, three more factories at Muradnagar in Ghaziabad near Delhi, Hazratpur in Firozabad near Agra and Kanpur also obtained NABL accreditation. Two more facilities at Ambarnath near Mumbai and at Ishapore near Kolkata are planned, thereby creating pan India testing network.
Another notable achievement was by Machine Tool Factory under OFB at Ambernath, Thane, Maharashtra, who designed and developed a cost effective, portable ventilator which is user friendly and automatic in operation. The device has the facility to control the parameters like breathing rate per minute, tidal volume and inhalation vs exhalation ratio. It has been successfully tested with a test lung. To complement this effort repair of a large number of ICU ventilators in the hospitals at Hyderabad was undertaken by the Ordnance Factory Medak.
On the humanitarian front, the Ordnance Factories set aside 280 beds in 10 hospitals as quarantine facility. Individual factories have donated PPEs and hand sanitizers to local authorities, distributed food to the poor and the needy and helped organize the community to tackle the virus. The employees of the Ordnance Factories too have donated generously to the PM – CARES Fund in spite of the economics of lockdown.
The Ordnance Factories are dedicated to the ideal of a safe and secure nation under all circumstances. This Corona Warrior continues its fight tirelessly in pursuit of victory at least cost and in minimum time. Our Rig Veda has taught us “Where there is harmony between the mind, heart and resolution, then nothing is impossible”. The effort by OFB is just an example of this Great Indian Spirit. Indeed, Nation Above All 24×7.