WRP Asia ramps up production to tap on global rubber glove demand
12 May 2020
Rubber glove manufacturer WRP Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd, which only produces five per cent of Malaysia’s overall capacity, is a fine example that size does not matter, as it joins the giants of the industry in meeting the global demand for rubber gloves to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, until recently, not much was known about WRP Asia, which counts the United States (US), Canada and Japan as its main markets.
The company came into the limelight when the US, which has the highest number of COVID-19 infections with 1.34 million cases and 80,397 deaths recorded at the time of writing, lifted an earlier ban on the glove maker it had accused of using forced labour.
Speaking to Bernama, WRP Asia’s Special Counsel, Mathew Thomas Philip, said the US’ decision to lift the ban had enabled the company to meet global glove demand in these unprecedented times and contribute effectively in equipping medical frontliners.
As part of the personal protective equipment (PPE), rubber gloves are a much coveted commodity now, with global demand estimated to touch 300 billion units this year, of which Malaysia is set to produce 225 billion units or 65 per cent.
Last year, the country exported 170 billion pieces of rubber gloves valued at RM17.3 billion.
“With the US ban now behind us, we will now focus all our energy to push our agenda of accountability and transparency to enable us to contribute immediately and impactfully to the community during this time of dire crisis,” he said.
WRP Asia has been producing 11 billion gloves annually.
And in meeting the spike in global demand, it is upping its capacity from about a quarter now to full by year-end so it can also contribute substantially to Malaysia’s rubber gloves production numbers.
WRP Asia is fully utilising its three plants, consisting of 69 production lines in total.
According to Thomas Philip, while the company’s production quantity may be small, it is proud of being able to produce gloves that adhere to the most stringent international quality standards.
Besides rubber gloves, the company is also a world leader in latex balloon catheters, which are used to compress plaque within a clogged coronary artery, and radiation protective gloves. According to medical websites, balloon catheters are also utilised in the deployment of stents during angioplasty.
However, its major challenge is to restart operations and slowly work its way up to running at full capacity again.
WRP Asia has had to deal with a multitude of legacy issues due to the previous management and to avoid it in the future, it has established a new board of directors and executive line-up to ensure greater transparency.
“We will then ensure the regularisation of all the workers, which includes improving their working and living conditions,” he said.
Besides exporting the products, WRP is also contributing to the country’s very own frontliners.
The company is working closely with the Health Ministry to address growing needs for medical supplies and has contributed over 600,000 of its DERMAGRIP Nitrile Ultra L S examination gloves and designated medical centres assigned to handle COVID-19 screening and treatment.
The company strictly adheres to the rules set by the government.
As the world remains shrouded by COVID-19 fears this year and perhaps going into 2021 as well, WRP Asia said there would be continued demand for rubber gloves.
“WRP hopes to be at maximum production capacity in order to fulfil part of this demand and be one of the top leaders in the global glove market,” Thomas Philip said.
WRP Asia was first incorporated in 1985 under the name of Wembley Rubber Products Sdn Bhd. Located in the district of Sepang in Selangor, its operations began in 1990 with the manufacture of latex gloves and urology balloon catheters.
Subsequently, in 1998, the company’s name was changed to WRP Asia Pacific Sdn Bhd. It carries the tagline “Your Partner in Protection”.
Since the commencement of business, its operations have expanded from a single manufacturing plant to three plants currently, producing a wide range of gloves with nitrile, chloroprene, polyisoprene and natural rubber latex materials.
The total workforce of WRP has increased to over 4,000 employees to-date.
Malaysia is the largest market for the gloves in Southeast Asia, accounting for 41.2 per cent of total market size. It is the fifth largest producer and exporter of natural rubber as of 2017, and a leader in the production and export of rubber products.
Stakeholders in the rubber industry include the smallholders, manufacturers and multinational companies. Out of the total rubber plantation area of 1.07 million hectares, 7.21 per cent is owned by plantation companies.