New vistas: Covid lockdown forcing companies to innovate – How they are going about it

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Published: June 29, 2020 5:05 AM

According to Daniel, the innovation has led the company to work with many different industries like retail, airports, hospitals, hotels and even the government.

For what it could not produce with screen material, it sourced from outside, which is the PET used in making cold drink bottles, to make face shields. Preetham Daniel, senior vice president (Asia), Harkness Screens, told FE that he feels these face shields will be in great demand once its core client base — movie theatres – start opening up.For what it could not produce with screen material, it sourced from outside, which is the PET used in making cold drink bottles, to make face shields. Preetham Daniel, senior vice president (Asia), Harkness Screens, told FE that he feels these face shields will be in great demand once its core client base — movie theatres – start opening up. (Representative image)

As the movie theatre business has come to a standstill due to the pandemic and the resultant lockdown-related measures and demand for theatre screens has plummeted, UK-based Harkness Screens, which makes these screens, has devised a new way of keeping its factories running and workers occupied in India.

After much deliberations, it has started manufacturing medical curtains, table cloth for restaurants and screen barriers which can be used between desks in offices, between seats in theatres or between two tables in restaurants — all from the same PVC material used in making cinema screens.

For what it could not produce with screen material, it sourced from outside, which is the PET used in making cold drink bottles, to make face shields. Preetham Daniel, senior vice president (Asia), Harkness Screens, told FE that he feels these face shields will be in great demand once its core client base — movie theatres – start opening up. “One of the advantages that we had was that our PVC was always anti-microbial in nature and the fact that it is PVC it can be easily sanitised,” Daniel said.

According to Daniel, the innovation has led the company to work with many different industries like retail, airports, hospitals, hotels and even the government.

“PVR has placed an order with us for face shields while we are approaching ITC hotels who are converting some of their hotels into quarantine centres. They may not want to use expensive curtains on the windows and which is where we feel our medical curtains could be of use,” he said.

The company has so far produced 1,00,000 face shields and about 7,000-8,000 sq metre of curtains, and feels if the ban on exports of face shields are lifted and logistics becomes smooth within the country, it could make up to half a million of these in the next six months as it sees Southeast Asia as a lucrative market. In the meantime, the company has supplied table covers to restaurants in Bengaluru as washing of linen after every use could prove to be time-consuming and an expensive proposition.

However, Harkness has a challenge – its products are dearer compared to its counterparts in the market. The PVC made medical curtain, for instance costs Rs 1,800 for a pair of 3 ft by 7 ft size, while the cloth medical curtains are available for Rs 1,200 a pair. Also, the face shields are three times the price of the Rs 37-40 available currently in the market. Daniel claims the company’s products are superior both in make and in quality. “People are not able to see the life of it versus the price of it,” he said. The company currently is in discussions with a lot of cinema chains, hotels and retailers across the country.

Indian companies, too, have risen to the challenge and are aggressively innovating in times of Covid-19.

Indian textile major Arvind has come up with an anti-viral fabric, which it plans to make use in making shirts for menswear and also sell it as loose fabric which can be used to stitch garments. Partnering with a Swiss textile innovation company HeiQ, the company has launched the fabric under ‘Intellifabrix’ brand which will be available in all Arvind outlets and retail channels starting July. The speciality of the fabric is that it has been proven effective against the human coronavirus 229E & SARS-CoV-2, causing Covid-19, with 99.99% reduction of virus in 30 minutes, said Kulin Lalbhai, executive director, Arvind.

The idea, he said, came in April with the realisation that Covid-19 will not go away soon. The company then started scouting for technologies with which it can treat the fabric and readymade garments, which is when it came in touch with HeiQ, which specialises in anti-viral and anti-microbial technologies for textiles. Lalbhai said the company was initially worried whether the chemical would be harmful and not liked by customers, however, the concerns were allayed soon.

“It is tested in Switzerland and is clinically approved. It is not harmful on skin and despite the treatment the fabric stays normal,” he said. While the fabric neutralises the virus, it also does not allow retransmission. “The chemical stays for 30 washes and that is a pretty good measurement,” Lalbhai claims.

As for the pricing, the readymade shirt will cost customers around Rs 2,500 and fabric will cost Rs 600-1,000 per metre. While currently only for menswear, the company may look at expanding the range to women’s wear as well.

The same technology from HeiQ has also been used by another listed textile firm Shiva Texyarn, which is primarily into making protective gears against chemical and biological weapons, cold weather clothing, ruck sacks and carrying gear for the armed forces. With the primary business muted at present due to sluggish demand, the company is currently experimenting with making face masks with anti-viral coating and may venture into making protective cover clothing for doctors. Targeting retail route to make them commercially available by next week, the company is currently producing 20-30 lakh masks. However, it has the capacity to scale it up to 2 crore a month, which it plans if the market receives the product well.

Sundararaman KS, managing director, Shiva Texyarn, said the company is going to launch the mask at a retail price of Rs 49. “The idea is to take very high protection to the common man. We are in the launch phase and we are just awaiting international certification to come to us formally,” he said, adding the company has received 400 distribution enquiries across the country. “Lot of it is from Tamil Nadu but we are planning to work on a pan-India basis”.

In another innovation, Zicom Electronic Security Systems, which provides electronic security solutions like CCTV cameras, home and office security solution systems, has found an opportunity in Covid-19 to extend its product offering to include contact-less thermal screens made for residential and commercial establishments.

Along with security, safety of health has also become an essential requirement, which propelled the idea, said Pramoud Rao, managing director, Zicom Electronic Security Systems. The screens, he said, can be installed at the gates of housing societies where a person entering the building can show the wrist in front of the screen and it shows body temperature in degree Celsius and Fahrenheit. If the body temperature is higher than the optimal, the thermal screen raises an alarm. The technology and hardware, which have been built in-house, are available in two price range Rs 13,000 and Rs 19,000 a piece. “The system is completely contact less and is much more efficient than the Chinese temperature guns that are being widely used,” claims Rao.

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