Technica’s mountaintop headquarters.
Ventilators made to order
by Eric Eyges
Around mid-March, Tony Haddad (BE ’75) was at home watching a news program on MTV Lebanon that made clear the dire situation in which the country might find itself should COVID-19 take hold; the country of 6.8 million had 1,250 ventilators in total, of which only 400 would be available for infected patients. Haddad sat stunned: “I was imagining an Italy scenario, people dying in the hallways.”
Unlike many of his compatriots, Haddad, CEO of Technica and member of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture’s External Advisory Board, was in a position to act. Technica makes automation equipment—conveyor belt and truck loading systems, robotic crate stacking systems, palletizers and depalletizers—used in factories around the world, including those of well-known multinationals like Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Unilever. “I talked to our engineers, started researching on the internet, and called people.”
Technica began working with the doctors at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Notre Dame de Secours (CHU-NDS) in Byblos, who provided the necessary specifications and functionality for the device, “such as the necessary oxygen content it should produce.”
Haddad then began sourcing parts on the open market: pressure and flow sensors, valves, PLCs, monitors. At the time of writing, the first unit is being tested at CHU-NDS and will soon be submitted to the Ministries of Industry and Health for certification. The plan is to produce 250 ventilators by the end of May, with Lebanese hospitals receiving priority shipments.
A Technica ventilator in use at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Notre Dame de Secours.
What isn’t destined for Lebanon will be sold abroad. After LBCI aired a report on Technica’s ventilator initiative, the firm began receiving requests from across the Middle East and Africa. “All the big companies that make ventilators are tied up with production for their own countries,” and prices are volatile and rising.
This isn’t the first time Technica has responded to a social need. In 1986, the firm manufactured dental chairs to meet nationwide shortages. The firm adheres to a CSV (create shared value) policy. “We changed the terminology from CSR [corporate social responsibility], which implies guilt.”
Technica was born at a time of crisis, in 1982, the year Israel invaded Lebanon. “We are in the mountains, far from the problems [in Bikfaya]. But this time is different.” Haddad is referring to the dual crises of COVID-19 and currency collapse. “95 percent of our business is exports. So in times of war we could sell outside Lebanon, but now the whole world is in lockdown.”
Still, Technica is a bit better off than most Lebanese firms. “About a year and a half ago, I felt there was a problem with the banking system, interest rates being so high, so I diverted all of our receivables to Paris.” That decision has allowed Technica to maintain payroll without layoffs up until this point.
Of the firm’s 200 employees, roughly 70, mostly technicians who have to be on site, are not working normal hours. The engineering, sales, and administration teams continue to work from home.
“Technica is a family business. We’ve been through [crises] many times. We have enough cash reserves to pay people for now. But if things get worse, we might have to cut salaries.”
Through it all, Haddad remains optimistic. “When you don’t lay off during a crisis, when you help them feed their families, you build loyalty. I always tell my employees, as long as I’m eating, you’re eating.”