In the first few months of the coronavirus crisis in early 2020 Continuum, along with the majority of UK/China businesses, responded to the “call to arms” of governments to urgently help provide PPE and other medical equipment, to tackle a shortage for frontline healthcare workers.

As demand for PPE hit record levels globally, forcing governments to rapidly find alternative sources of PPE, China’s unparalleled strength as a manufacturing power was in the prime position to help. On the ground, many found themselves scrambling as the situation and regulations changed rapidly and frequently. It was under these extremely challenging circumstances that the structure and experience which Continuum has developed over the years meant we had an outstanding outcome, delivering record volumes of high-quality PPE on budget and ahead of schedule, where many others failed.

Our success was due to what we judge to be ten key factors which put us in a unique position.

  • We knew taking factory recommendations or validations without site visits was risky. As we are on the ground in China, we were able to visit 14 manufacturers in both North and South China. Almost all other trading institutions quickly found they had no means of entry into China and a lack of trusted personnel in situ.
  • We identified early on that securing a manufacturer which could produce compliant, high quality PPE at the required volumes, whilst a challenge in itself, was only the first of many hurdles.
  • We knew gaining access to production space for PPE that was in global demand would require all our negotiating arsenal and we were able to leverage our wide network of influencers to open key doors when others were stranded outside.
  • We knew demand would be so high that the vast majority of manufacturers would barely be able to make a dent in the requirement and that managing one source would make the process much more efficient. Our network of contacts gave us direct access to three key suppliers, the most important of which turned out to be the largest capacity supplier of surgical masks in China and by implication, the world. At its peak producing 20 million masks per day.
  • We knew nothing would happen without an immediate means of payment. Our verifiably secure and auditable financial record meant that the large sums required could be reliably entrusted to us.
  • We understood the necessity for watertight and enforceable Chinese contracts and were able to use our long-standing legal agents to put in place contracts which protected our clients and us.
  • We understood immediately that accessing production was no use unless we could deliver it. Our experienced personnel in the UK immediately got to work securing air freight contracts well in advance of other trading companies. This allowed our customers the huge financial benefit of early booking in an inflationary market. Subsequently, our logistics resources in Scotland and China were able to react quickly and efficiently when Shanghai airport became overwhelmed. Utilising contacts they were able to open up an alternative airport hundreds of kilometres to the north entailing a chain of overland transport that would have been impossible without our experienced team in place.
  • We discovered within a few weeks that the Chinese government was going to protect the county’s reputation against claims of falsely certified goods contaminating the market and put in place extremely tight export regulations. These rules changed almost weekly and were often difficult to decipher for customs officials themselves. Our experienced export team in place in China were able to navigate these shifting sands.
  • In turn, this required us to be on top of scrutinising and validating the multiple certifications required in both the UK, Australia, New Zealand and China. For this, we were able to rely on our existing fully accredited audit and certification partner.
  • Throughout this process, we had a structure in the UK and Australia that could relay accurate real-time information to our customers. Through multiple daily Skype calls between China and our international offices, we were able to reassure where necessary, head off potential problems and fix potentially damaging issues quickly and efficiently.

Continuum, which holds the recognised certification to supply medical products (ISO 13485), has supplied PPE to the medical sector in Australasia since 2010 and continues to supply PPE to the UK, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the USA.

“There’s no doubt that the whole COVID19 experience will be seen by many as a unique set of circumstances, but for me, it felt that whilst the scale of the issues and volume of material that needed to be delivered was several magnitudes larger than normal, the same disciplines and processes we have always had in place kicked in.

In a very real sense it didn’t matter that it was one container or several hundred, the process was the same, and I am very proud that we were able to deliver vital supplies trouble-free and ahead of any other suppliers to NHS Scotland, NHS Wales and via our long-standing medical supply customer, the New Zealand Government.”

Craig MacKenzie, Continuum Director , Continuum Global Sourcing