Covid-19: how businesses are innovating with ‘corona products’
From handcrafted masks to sturdy face shields, small firms are turning to innovative products that are in demand during the pandemic
The covid-19 pandemic is forcing businesses staring at a bleak future to enter the field of what they term “corona products". In the US, eager travellers are opting for vehicles that are now being labelled “covid campers". These are nothing but traditional RVs, also known as motor homes or travel trailers. According to a recent report by Bloomberg, some people are spending upwards of $100,000 (around ₹85 lakh) so they can travel while staying away from everyone else. “Social distancing is apparently a lot easier when you can bring along your own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom," the report adds.
In India, too, businesses that have suffered losses are trying to think innovatively, either looking at new products or modifying their existing ones. Be it customized face masks and face shields or digital infrared thermometers and sanitizing tunnels.
Take the face masks category. A recent report published in The Lancet medical journal says wearing a face mask can actually bring down the chance of infection to just 3%. According to the report, face shields and goggles could “add" substantial protection. The comprehensive report is based on 172 observational studies across 16 countries and six continents.
“Given what’s happening because of covid-19, luxury is out of the question right now for many people. Everyone’s looking to procure the basic requirements and face masks are an absolute must. Who wouldn’t want them? I wouldn’t leave the house without one," says Dalvir Singh, director, The Flag Company, a Mumbai-based firm. The company, which has been manufacturing flags, banners and backlit fabric light boxes, has of late turned to making face masks.
It has come out with customizable 2-ply fabric face masks that are breathable, UV protected and washable. They are made from 100% woven polyester and can be personalized for a particular brand or company—there are customized masks for children and masks that can have half of your face printed on them too. “It’s a great way of advertising and creating awareness about the importance of face masks at the moment. So far, everyone from small to large enterprises has shown interest in the product. We are also expecting to start exporting them soon," adds Singh.
For now, the company has fixed the minimum order at 12 pieces. But at ₹125 each, the affordability factor is also taken care of. “Till the time there is no vaccine or medicinal intervention, people will be using all the means possible for proper sanitization: one is the hand sanitizer, and the other, face masks," adds Singh.
The Strutt Store, a bootstrapped startup based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, had been designing travel bags and essentials but has now diversified into handcrafted face masks. “When the pandemic struck, the travel business went down. But we decided to make these masks because travel itself will never stop. People might not be travelling from one city to another but they are still travelling over short distances and the idea was to design these masks to keep them safe," says Vishesh Khosla, part of the founding team at The Strutt Store. The team went through a detailed market research process before settling on handcrafted four-layered masks that use denim, linen and Khadi cotton. For protection, two filtration layers, including an antibacterial one, are used in every mask. “These are the same layers used in surgical masks," says Khosla, adding that after a quiet period of business they are now receiving orders of up to 150-200 masks daily. They cost as little as ₹269 for a set of three.
It’s not just face masks. The sanitization tunnel too has caught the imagination of manufacturers. Across the world, these tunnels and chambers are being placed outside shopping complexes, offices and areas that get a large number of people every day. For multiple scientific research papers have shown that the covid-19 virus can survive on inanimate surfaces for hours, even days.
In April, the Union health ministry issued an advisory voicing concern about the use of such tunnels, or spraying people with disinfecting or sanitizing agents. Multiple news reports cited the ministry as saying sanitizing agents could cause physical and mental damage. The same month, however, the Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Mumbai-based Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) issued a statement saying the advisory did not have “any scientific basis", according to a report in The Hindu.
Manufacturers are going ahead with these. “Of late, our regular business was not working out that well. Before the lockdown, I had seen some WhatsApp clippings of these sanitization tunnels being used in China and other countries. I thought, why not use our manufacturing expertise to good use and design a similar tunnel here?" says Rajan Chadha, founder of Road Point India Ltd, a Delhi-based security devices company that primarily designs GPS vehicle trackers. “It’s also a useful way to keep a regular flow of income to pay our employees," he adds.
Chadha then proceeded to source the components needed to make these tunnels: iron rods for the frame, nozzles and so on. Now, Road Point India sells two models that have already been installed in some schools and private offices in Delhi, even the M-Block market in Greater Kailash-1, he says. For branding purposes, Chadha listed these tunnels under a “corona products" category on a new, stand-alone website. The models cost ₹64,000 and ₹1.10 lakh each, he says.
“Many malls, cinema halls, schools and residential societies are now reaching out as well. If an outsider is entering certain premises, they would want them to be sanitized," adds Chadha. He adds that the company is only manufacturing and supplying the tunnels. “We have no say or suggestion for the kind of disinfecting agent being used in the tunnels. Our job is just to provide the mechanism," he says.
There is much more. From safety keys that help you avoid touching surfaces to foot-operated hand sanitizer dispensers, the growing number of innovations is one of the few good things to have come out of this pandemic.
A shield of trust
Desmania Design, a studio based in Manesar, Haryana, is using rapid prototyping and 3D-printing processes to develop a face shield. “People were either making disposable masks or normal (not necessarily reusable) face shields which were creating waste management issues," says Anuj Prasad, founder of the design studio.
The FaceARMOR is a mask, a face shield and modular filter. It will have two variants: one for general users and an entirely transparent one mainly for doctors. “The whole aspect of human relationships is actually based on a person’s identity and their facial expressions," says Prasad. “We thought of designing a transparent shield where the face is visible.... The trust (between a patient and doctor) actually builds by looking at the face and understanding what they are talking about," he adds.
These face shields, which will cost ₹500-1,200, are made of transparent polycarbonate or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and can be washed and reused. “We have identified four important (user) areas: delivery boys, industrial or police workforce, travellers and doctors," says Prasad, who hopes to begin deliveries later this month.