It may be a lesser known fact to those outside of Czech Republic or the cylinders community, for example, but 2020 is the year that Ostrava-based Cylinders Holding celebrates 115 years of continuous manufacturing of seamless high-pressure cylinders.
A team of 1,000 people, today Cylinders Holding is a world-leader in the production of steel cylinders and has succeeded in developing a number of technologies over the last century, especially in hot forming processes well known as ‘backward extrusion’. One of many achievements in that time has been the extruded 260 litre cylinder.
Even fewer will realise that today, Cylinders Holding is one of only a handful of companies manufacturing medical oxygen cylinders in Europe during this current Covid-19 crisis.
“Yes, that’s correct,” affirms Martin Litvik, Commercial Director at Cylinders Holding a.s., in an exclusive interview with gasworld. “We do our best to keep our production lines uninterrupted, keeping our production at maximum manufacturing capacity for these reasons especially.”
“Quite frankly, we have never seen such a high requirement and demand for oxygen cylinders,” he continues. “The demand is somewhere between 30-40 times more than usual. Oxygen is more than ever absolutely essential to any patient diagnosed with the Covid-19.”
This might seem like a very obvious point, but the scale of at least a 30-fold increase in oxygen cylinder demand is huge. In pure numbers, this translates to around 35,000 finished medical cylinders for the month of April, compared to around 1,000-1,500 medical cylinders on a ‘normal’ monthly basis.
This is naturally a source of pride for all at the company, to be playing such an active role in the recovery efforts of this coronavirus pandemic, yet Litvik explains that it’s more a sense of responsibility that the company feels right now, rather than pride.
“We can see across the world how oxygen saves life. We are very proud that we can contribute in the world effort to deal with such a serious disease, but to be honest we mainly feel a great responsibility to keep up with the demand. Everywhere I go I see a big personal effort and contribution to maximise a production.”
“People are so humanly motivated that it’s inspirational. I can’t thank enough all of our employees for their help, and couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Our interview comes as very brief interlude in Litvik’s own daily work routine that is currently completely focused on meeting the critical demand for its products.
“Well, in a current situation such as this with the coronavirus, our daily work routine has changed,” he says. “I would say that’s one of a kind of interruption [to normal operations] itself, but one thing will never change nor interrupt and that’s our responsibility to deliver what we have promised to our clients. We are in touch with our customers, we communicate, we keep our clients updated on their individual orders. Put simply, we do the maximum to run our operations as usual regardless of what challenges our business brings along.”
At the time of writing, Czech Republic has more than 7,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and just over 200 deaths, with the country imposing strict measures very early on in its own battle against the virus. Pressed further on the challenges or interruptions that Cylinders Holding has itself come up against in the production of cylinders during these days of lockdown and social distancing, Litvik explains that the company has enforced many of the same measures as others and has not been too adversely affected as yet.
“Luckily our production has not been affected and we put in place a safety measure,” he says. “The first step that is absolutely essential is personal individual protection; we all wear masks and gloves at all times. We keep the distance.”
“All of our personal meetings or conversations are now online only. Within the production set-up we have often used radio for internal communications anyway, so it’s routine. The design of our production line is also helping as we don’t have a layout which accumulates a lot of working personnel.”
“There are still some difficulties mainly with our sub-contracting chain, but things are moving towards a right solution,” he assures.
Lessons to learn?
Cylinders Holding has learned many lessons in its rich 115-year history, as gasworld explored in a recent feature with the company to discuss the challenges of past and present in cylinder manufacture.
Agility, embracing modern technologies and making investments at the right time were all cited as key to successful cylinder development and production, as well as sustainability in a competitive market.
The current coronavirus pandemic has changed so many things, such is an impact simply not known in the post-wartime era. With the oxygen of our industry and the cylinders of Cylinder Holdings at the heart of this disaster response, does the company see any lessons to be learned from this crisis?
As Litvik explains, those same factors of agility and technology are emerging as key to navigating the tricky path through this pandemic, and likely the ramifications of it further down the line too.
“It’s a very difficult question as, in the modern age or era, we don’t have enough experience with pandemics/disasters on a scale of this. I think it is quite essential to remember that we need to be prepared more than ever to be able to accept any changes. Quite literally anything and everything is possible now,” he says.
“Companies need to be structured in a way that they will be more flexible, effective and easily adaptable in order to react to any challenges.”
“We learn as we go,” he adds. “It’s the human element which is the strongest and the weakest all at the same time. I believe there is a panic involved too and all those human emotions evoke a question such as, do we need to invest more in robotisation, automation and IT?”
“All of those questions make sense to ask, and think about even more. My reply would be ‘let’s be prepared for anything’.”
Drilling down into the oxygen supply chain – and the required medical cylinders – that has been so extensively stretched in particular, Litvik says the biggest lessons are arguably to be learned at a political level and in the preparedness for such circumstances the world over.
“We can say it is an unprecedented situation, but again right now we have a chance to get ready. States, governments should invest and create a state material reserve of medical cylinders in case of a disaster or emergency.”
“They say ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. Oxygen cylinders have proven fundamental in the treatment of Covid-19. As we know, even the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, said ‘they saved my life’. He was given oxygen treatment, so it speaks for itself.”
“We have to invest into a retail structure so that anyone can buy the cylinder with oxygen.”