No event in history has had as spectacular an effect on the surgical mask market as the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. While primitive variations of modern surgical masks and other types of face-covering did see a spurt among healthcare workers during pandemics like the Spanish Flu and the Bubonic Plague, a lack of knowledge about public health, infection prevention measures and personal hygiene prevented them from being as widely adopted as masks are today. This in turn also impacted the medical masks market’s ability at that time to develop advanced products.
At the same time, it will be wrong to attribute the growth in the medical mask market to the Covid-19 pandemic alone. There is ample data to show that all types of surgical masks, including the 3M surgical mask, N95 surgical mask, disposable surgical mask, and anti-fog surgical face mask, had seen steady growth with the increase in dedicated healthcare professionals over the last several decades and the growing availability of healthcare. This in turn helped the surgical masks market gauge the factors and conditions affecting people’s respiratory health, which has helped the market develop effective surgical masks in the form we see today.
Instances of air-borne pandemics such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndromes (MERS), both of which are incidentally types of coronavirus, had also contributed to sales among the general public, especially among the elderly who are more prone to such diseases. Despite growing use among the general public since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, the primary market for surgical masks remains healthcare workers who are the most susceptible to not only Covid-19 but various other types of air-borne infectious diseases as well. In fact, healthcare workers continue to face one of the highest casualty rates among essential workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, even within this targeted segment, there has been an expansion in core users. Earlier, frontline healthcare workers and first responders were the primary users of surgical masks; now, nearly all types of healthcare workers can be seen sporting advanced 3M surgical masks or N95 surgical masks. A huge increase in demand has also been witnessed specifically for disposable surgical masks since a lot of ambiguity still persists about the Covid-19 virus with regards to its lifespan, ability to survive in different temperatures, ability to transmit from different types of surfaces, and other such factors. Anti-fog surgical face masks are meanwhile a relatively new market innovation that allows masks to be worn for a long time while conducting complex medical procedures without impacting the healthcare professional’s capabilities.
The unprecedented and sudden boom in the medical mask market has proved both a challenge and opportunity for manufacturers of medical masks. Earlier, top manufacturers of medical masks generally relied on their reputation in the broader healthcare market to push products. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the scenario drastically and the top manufacturers in the surgical masks market are being gauged by the efficiency of their products in guarding against microbes (vis-à-vis permeability of material) and their ability to deliver large volumes of products at short notice. This has greatly altered the market behavior of several top manufacturers in the surgical masks market.
Some of the top manufacturers in the global surgical masks market include Medline Industries, 3M Company, Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Molnlycke Health Care, OBP Medical Corporation, Kowa Company, Honeywell International, Owens & Minor Halyard Health, Cardinal Health, Venus Safety & Health, Boston Scientific Corporation, SunMed, Premium HealthCare Disposables, Sterimed Group, Ambu, Henry Schein, Hill-Rom Holdings, Moldex-Metric, Uvex, Kindwell Medical BioClean, AirStrip Technologies, Parburch Medical Developments, Valmy, AllScripts Healthcare Solutions, Thea-Tex Healthcare, Narang Medical Limited, Dynarex Corporation, MBL Impex, Timesco Healthcare, Flexicare Medical and SAS Safety Corporation.
Among these top manufacturers, 3M Company was among the first to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic when it expanded its production capabilities at its factories in China in January 2020, while the virus was still centered in Wuhan and a global pandemic was yet to be declared. The company followed this with partnerships with Cummins and Ford Motor Company, both players from outside the healthcare market, later in the year. This has greatly helped enhance 3M Company’s profile in the medical mask market and made it popular with consumers.
Kimberly-Clark is often considered the second top player in the surgical masks market to have responded to the pandemic as it expanded its capabilities in February 2020; it was followed by Honeywell in March. Nearly all major companies have since greatly enhanced their production capabilities due to the astronomical growth in demand. In terms of product efficiency, non-woven masks now dominate the market due to their superior microbe and filtration properties