Umicore’s response to COVID-19


Within only a few weeks after COVID-19 first broke out in China, the pandemic had spread around the globe, making its way to even the most remote communities. It was soon clear that COVID-19 was more than just a seasonal flu and that the consequences could potentially be serious.

By the time COVID-19 had reached pandemic proportions, Umicore was already taking far-reaching measures to protect its employees and ensure continuity of production, at a time when it was impossible to predict exactly how the pandemic would progress.

Fast and decisive response

In these exceptional and very difficult circumstances, Umicore’s top priority has always been the health and safety of its employees worldwide. As of the end of January 2020, we introduced strict hygiene and other precautionary measures starting with our facilities in Asia, which were the first to be affected.

Individual and workplace hygiene measures were quickly tightened at all Umicore sites worldwide, with the aim of reducing the transmission risk within the organization, keeping our employees healthy and offering them a safe workplace. Prompted by the fact that contamination could occur in public spaces, Umicore delivered surgical masks for private use to the homes of all employees worldwide at a time when they were unavailable on the open market.

Weekly meetings were held with the management board and a task force of health professionals to review the COVID-19 situation in all regions globally and to evaluate the measures in place according to each local situation. Even when national policies were less stringent, Umicore implemented its strict company policy to keep employees healthy and safe and to contain further spread of the virus.

Essential to society

As far as possible, Umicore also needed to take measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on its performance. Umicore continued to operate in order to provide activities and products which are essential for the protection of the vital interests and needs of the population.

The continuation of our production was utterly important because of the essential applications in which our products are used. Our metals are of great importance in the medical sector. Without our precious and other non-ferrous metals, no high-tech products can be produced for healthcare, including cancer treatment, treatment of arrhythmias, pain therapy and the production of ventilators, catheters and medicines.

Umicore also provides materials for the early detection and monitoring of coronavirus. Screening is often based on infrared (IR) thermal imaging optical components to check places where dense groups are gathered, such as airports and train stations, serving as an additional source of information when people may not show symptoms.

Following the widespread shutdown of assembly lines by our automotive customers, Umicore also temporarily shut down 10 of its 16 automotive catalyst plants. Any disruption in the production plants caused by the pandemic was because of interruptions to the supply chain. These sites resumed operations shortly thereafter. None of the other production sites worldwide was shut down during the pandemic.

The resilience of our employees

Our employees have shown great resilience in dealing with this difficult situation, impacting all aspects of their lives. Their determination, agility and hard work ensured that our working environment could remain safe and healthy. While adjusting to very challenging conditions in order to ensure business continuity, many of our employees also volunteered for a number of charity initiatives, including the donation of food, masks, money and goods for children.

Umicore Thermal imaging
in the fight against COVID-19

Limiting the spread of the virus by early detection has been crucial in all phases of the pandemic. One method of early detection is screening with thermal imaging cameras in densely populated places such as airports, hospitals, companies and schools.

Thermal imaging cameras can measure temperatures with up to 0,3°C accuracy and can detect an elevated body temperature that could indicate fever. While body temperature is not proof of COVID-19, and while somebody infected with the COVID-19 virus may not always have a higher body temperature, this is still is an excellent early detection mechanism to help contain widespread outbreaks.

From February 2020 until summer, Umicore's Infrared Optics team saw a drastic increase in demand for its optics. Globally hundreds of thousands optics were sold for integration into thermal cameras used in detection of elevated body temperature. The team was able to absorb the sudden demand peak in demand as Umicore is, to a large extent, vertically integrated (starting from metals) and therefore less dependent on third party suppliers. Additionally, activity levels were increased in challenging circumstances (for example, introduction of hygiene rules and higher preventive absences). The ramp-up of Umicore’s newly introduced and cost-effective wafer optic Tessella™ technology supported its customers in rapidly introducing affordable high-performance systems.