The corona crisis's mounting shortage of hand gels motivated the Drenthe company Watter to translate their knowledge and technology into an up-to-date product. Their system has been used for years to produce disinfectant on site in the agricultural and industrial sector. For several weeks, the company has been working overtime to fill vials with hand sanitizer to meet the high demand.
When we speak to Alfred Koop - who founded Watter in 2008 with twin brother Arjan - the adrenaline almost splashes through the phone. The inspired brothers and their team did everything they could to get the production of hand sanitizer up and running at lightning speed. Thanks to great support from third parties, they overcame a few technical obstacles, such as the lack of bottle caps on the European market. But just as production and delivery are getting underway in earnest due to high demand, there appears to be another hurdle to overcome: according to an authority, it is unclear whether Watter's hand sanitizer officially complies with the guidelines. The newly established production for the Dutch consumer market has therefore been temporarily halted, pending an exemption.
'It's an exciting time where the status is changing by the day,' Alfred says. 'The situation is being discussed at a high political level. Really class how quickly we can link up with Province of Drenthe and how Deputy Henk Bink is making an effort on our behalf.' That sounds good, but what is actually the problem surrounding the guidelines? 'The disinfectant our system produces is suddenly rated differently by the bottling,' the entrepreneur explains. 'While the Watter liquid has long since been substantiated by TNO studies and NEN-EN certification. Moreover, our microbiologists were already developing a gel for the veterinary market. That process is now gaining momentum because of the COVID-19 virus. The situation demands it.'
Koop is clear about it: "We are not cowboys trying to take advantage of the corona crisis. It is just that we feel a responsibility to use our knowledge and technology to address the great need for hand gels. We need only open up our Watter machines, so to speak, to produce the liquid that is in such high demand. We are working with a partner who has a suitable production line to fill bottles with the hand sanitizer. It requires the necessary investment to make such a rapid turnaround, but we are deliberately maintaining a cost-covering price for this product. In this way we also hope that profiteering does not stand a chance.'
Compliments and thanks
That many more people are eager to contribute positively in this crisis, Watter noticed while hunting for bottle caps in a scarce market. 'We ourselves were working until late every day to find solutions, but so were others! It was incredible how much support and cooperation we received. Really my compliments and big thanks to everyone who contributed in that process, even if it was just a link to the next contact. Urgency is felt everywhere. Even people you don't know personally are making an effort to help. We now get the caps delivered from Poland, Slovenia and Sweden. These companies park regular orders that can wait a while or run extra production to supply us. That's great, isn't it? I think it's special to see how much we can achieve together in times like these.'
From the moment the Koop brothers heard that the hand gels were getting out of stock everywhere and have a long lead time - six to eight weeks - the adrenaline started flowing. 'We wanted to do what we could; together with our microbiologists who assist customers on site in producing disinfectant with our Watter system.' By way of background, Watter's sustainable technology works by using water, electricity and salt to produce a biological disinfectant product. This system has been used effectively for many years for clean drinking water in animal husbandry and for process water in industry. In the form of hand sanitizer the product can now be applied much more widely; a godsend given the high demand in these corona times.
Need breaks law
Alfred is eager to deliver to the consumer market at full speed and finds it frustrating that production is temporarily halted due to lack of clarity on guidelines. 'Because of the virus, there is a great need for hand sanitizers and in times of crisis you have to keep going,' the entrepreneur believes. 'We believe: necessity breaks laws. Nevertheless, we are now suffering from bureaucratic delays. We understand that authorities take their work seriously and want to prevent junk from entering the market, but we have everything to underwrite that we can meet the great demand for hand gels with a responsible product. We are used to thinking in terms of solutions and we have done the same. Confident of the good outcome, we continue to do everything we can in this crisis to do what we do well.'