Take the smart route

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Take the smart route

Sunday, 10 May 2020 | Shalini Saksena

Take the smart route

With only one week left for the lockdown to open, people are apprehensive about how they can protect themselves from COVID-19. SHALINI SAKSENA speaks to industry stakeholders who say smart clothes are the way forward

We have UVC-LED system to sanitise homes and public places and a locket that will send an alert if the six feet distancing is breached. Doctors advise that people continue to wash hands regularly or sanitise them and maintain social distancing. Still there are apprehensions as to what will happen when the lockdown is lifted and people are out in the streets and social distancing will be difficult to maintain given our vast population. Fret not. There are people who have come up with protecting gear — smart fabric and antiviral/antibacterial sprays to prevent spread of infection.

At the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, a team of researchers have developed affordable antimicrobial (antiviral/antibacterial) spray-based coating for Personal Protective Equipment. The idea has been developed by Dr Biman B Mandal, Professor, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering along with his PhD scholars, Bibhas K Bhunia and Ashutosh Bandyopadhyay.

Prof Biman tells you that it is a nano-based technology. The metal nanoparticle cocktail like copper, silver and other active ingredients, present in the spray acts as an antimicrobial agent. The aim is to tied over the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and masks.

“We came up with this innovation that will protect wearer from infection. There is a protocol to follow when it comes to PPE and masks but the common man doesn’t adhere to it leading to growth of microbes. We wanted to create an active barrier. Earlier, the microbe was sitting on the surface for further spreading. With this antiviral/antibacterial spray, there is no accumulation since the spray disrupts the membrane of the microbe. It can no longer proliferate and survive therefore increasing the protection level. The innovation is affordable and can be used easily on any kind of surface including textiles and other medical device surfaces to get rid of microbial load,” Biman explains.

He tells you that it is not just for the healthcare workers. One is told that microbes are not just limited to Coronavirus. “Microbes are all around us. We are touching surfaces and going to hospitals. Now, we have a personal spray that will clean the surface, drastically reducing the chances of catching infection,” he says.

Biman says that this technology can be used to make clothes smart as well. “The clothes we wear get dirty in two ways. First, dirt like mud. Second, microbes from sweat, etc. What if there is fabric that restricts microbial growth? When we wash woolen garments, we put it in a special solution to keep it soft. This technology can be applied in a similar manner. After washing, we put the garment in the additive to make the cloth smart. It is like a knife. Once you have the gadget, it can be used to cut a fruit, or vegetable or even herbs,” Biman says.

Yatee Gupta, founder of Fabiosys Innovations, an IIT Delhi incubated start-up, tells you that his smart clothes are all about providing coveralls for the healthcare workers, for the time being, since they are at the forefront when it comes to treating COVID-19 patients and need the protection.

This company uses a technology that is commonly available in the textile industry — machines through which the fabric passes making it infection proof. He tells you that the machine has a combination of chemicals that the fabric passes through. This process involves three-four steps where coagulant agent that are antiviral are combined with the fabric in order to retain functionality of the fabric.

“We take the entire bundles of cotton fabric. It is a combination of treatment and process. The fabric is then passed through the machine that has three-four chemicals which react with the material to make it antiviral. For now, we are concentrating on cotton and cotton polyester and looking at a launch in the next one month,” Gupta says. Then there is concrete Corona suit designed using cement fabric. The uniform is air-tight only allowing the air to flow and blocking everything else that is less than 0.05 microns as COVID-19 carries particles ranging from 0.06 microns to the largest is 0.14 microns. The suits  offer 95-99 per cent protection. It also has a chip embedded so that there is no need to carry mobile phones. The uniform also has an inbuilt sanitising process.

Elsewhere, Neo Tech — a unique technology — developed by the Donear group of companies under Grado, has designed anti-viral and anti-bacterial fabrics that inhibits growth and retention of micro-organisms, making them safe and hygienic. The fabric has been certified by laboratories like NABL accredited Bio Tech Services, an autonomous body under the guidance of the Department Of Science & Technology.

Rajendra Agarwal, mentor, Grado tells you that they have been investing in R&D for a very long time. They have been pioneers in introducing a lot of innovative products in the market like a four-way stretch fabric, Ice-touch making the fabric five degrees cooler and uncrushable —wrinkle resistance. The antiviral fabric is just a step ahead given the present situation.

One is told that the Neo technology has been in use for the last two-three years. “We use two-three chemicals that are applied to the fabrics. It acts on the bacteria and microbials (viruses) protecting the wearer from infection to a great degree. In some cases, we are taking the fibre and then treating it, increasing their protective value. In other cases, we are treating the fabric which has a shelf life of up to 50 washes. The treatment will also be different depending on the sector. If it is healthcare, the treatment will be different as opposed to if the fabric is for daily wear,” Agarwal says.

The idea of antiviral fabric came up after three years of R&D since there are harmful bacteria and virus in the air and there were people who were looking for protective fabric. “Earlier, there were only a few people who were aware of it. But now, due to Coronavirus, it has become the need of the hour. Also, people were not willing to pay a price for it. But things are different now,” Agarwal tells you.

He is quick to point out that there is nobody who can guarantee that doing a certain thing will disintegrate the virus. “Washing hands with soap acts as a protection. Similarly, we also guarantee that our fabric can provide protection up to 50 washes after which it will lose its functionality. After that, one can wear the garment as one would any other normal garment,” Agarwal says and tells you that the cost of the fabric would range between Rs 250 to Rs 10,000 per metre depending on what fabric one would buy — whether it is cotton or silk.

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