2 Sep, 2020

Rising to the challenge: How the tech and manufacturing sector responded to the biggest call in the face of COVID-19

Sabrina Natasha Paul, from HSBC Private Bank, speaks to tech and manufacturing business owner, Anmol Sood, about the new demands COVID-19 created in the tech sector and how his businesses are helping tackle the biggest global health crisis in recent history.

Rising to the challenge (part 1): How the tech and manufacturing sector responded to the biggest call in the face of COVID-19

Anmol, technology has never played such an important role in how we live and operate. Your businesses, Jaltek, Equivital and Wavesight work to deliver cutting edge technology in a range of sectors such as clean energy, medical and defence as well as aerospace. Tell us about your businesses and the impact of COVID-19.

About our businesses

  • Jaltek Systems Ltd – Looks at the design and manufacture of high end, complex technology products and systems for customers in the defence, civil aviation & industrial sector. With defence, aviation & medical approvals in place, the range of products that are being manufactured is extremely diverse, which was important in navigating through the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Equivital – Here we design wearable technology solutions for professional organisations around the world including global militaries, first responders, clinical research and industrial customers. With existing FDA and intrinsic safety approvals in place, our current product range includes clinical grade wearable sensors to collect & aggregate human, environmental & geo-location data as well as mobile and web applications to view data in real time. We have also developed proximity monitoring solutions, initially used for social distancing purposes with data available for contact tracing, soon to be used for proximity monitoring between workers and potentially dangerous plant and machinery.
  • Wavesight – this business specialises in the supply of critical wireless infrastructure where we supply wireless infrastructure products and services such as radios to transmit video, voice & data, ruggedized communications products and solar power solutions, delivering low-cost power around the world.

Our businesses are focussed on delivering technology related solutions for our clients. From a manufacturing perspective, companies who have medical approvals are definitely seeing a rise in demand and interest, but one of the biggest challenges facing the whole industry is the lack of availability of components, globally. It is difficult to know when this supply chain is going to open back up fully, but we can definitely see the signs of recovery already.

Our Jaltek factory has remained open throughout the pandemic with our amazing team going into work every day in order to meet deadlines. We saw a strong financial performance between April and June and continue to see growth in the next quarter. Even during these times, we have seen that our services have remained in high demand.

Jaltek was asked to manufacture critical medical equipment for COVID-19. Can you tell us more?

We have long standing relationships with some large UK companies who when the government put out a request for help in supplying ventilators, were more than keen to help.

Thanks to our existing approvals, we were actually contacted by four different groups and consortiums. It was amazing to see how quickly these companies were able to produce and finalise designs for critical medical equipment, such as ventilators, and we were honoured to play a part in that.

Fortunately, the National Health Service (NHS) was able to cope with the demand for ventilators without further support from the private sector. The designs that we helped to prototype are now being transitioned to other countries, where the demand for ventilators remains high.

The UK Government also asked for your help in producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the NHS and social distancing tags?

Our business, Equivital, produces FDA approved wearable technology for researchers, the military, first responders, as well as industrial companies. We came up with four clear strategies for how our products, services and experience could help:

1. Our research products are being used to assist with research groups globally who are trying to better understand the virus and look at potential vaccines and treatments for it. Our clinical grade wearable technology means that data can be collected from a wide cohort of subjects who are potentially in different locations and can send that data back to the researcher. We are also allowing multiple groups, who are building home healthcare monitoring platforms, to integrate our sensors into their platform.

2. Our Blackghost application that is already being used to provide safety and performance monitoring for military, first responders and industrial personnel has been adapted. As well as physiological and geolocation data, we can take spot measurements for temperature and SPO2. SpO2 is also known as oxygen saturation and is a measure of the amount of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood relative to the amount of haemoglobin not carrying oxygen. The body needs there to be a certain level of oxygen in the blood or it will not function as efficiently. If the data points measuring this are below certain thresholds, steps can be taken to limit risk within the overall workforce. As many first responders are wearing PPE during the pandemic, our wearable technology is providing valuable data to ensure they do not keep working past a safe point, measuring fatigue and heat stress.

3. Being able to adapt and pivot, we prioritised the development of our latest product that is a small device worn by individuals. If two or more individuals, who are both wearing the device, come within 2 meters / 6 feet of each other (distance is configurable by organisation), an alert will be triggered with a visual and vibrating indication until the wearers move to a safe distance. This device means organisations can start bringing employees back to work, in office, retail, warehouse, construction and other such settings, safely. As data from these devices can be stored and downloaded, further analytics can be obtained, such as contact tracing, heat maps, hot spots amongst others meaning a whole organisation does not need to isolate in case of an individual diagnosis.

4. We've designed and commercialised FDA approved products - we were approached by some of our existing customers to source various forms of PPE that are so sought after globally. We have now built up an entire supply chain that is able to provide a range of PPE (masks, gloves, gowns etc.) to customers in the UK and globally.

Resilience is a key trait of entrepreneurs, as is flexibility and adaptability. You had to change your original plans for this year, what does resilience mean to you and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs on how to remain resilient during these times?

Any good business plan must have the ability to adapt, built into it. It is very rare, even if there isn't a global pandemic, that the assumptions you built your business plan on at the start of the year (or earlier) remain valid throughout the period of performance. So the ability to react to a changing environment is something we pride ourselves on. Similarly, if the entrepreneur behind a business is not able to adapt or react to change, the execution of that business plan becomes fraught with risk and uncertainty.

Each of our businesses had to adapt at the start of this pandemic and that is continuing even today. Key strategic activities we were undertaking had to be put on hold; we had to make sure that we were solid and secure as a business, to weather this storm. I’m thankful that until now, we have not had to furlough any staff, even though we had the option to do so. Our ethos is that if we are able to carry on funding our operations ourselves, there are many businesses that can’t and need government assistance, so why divert potential financial support from them?

In addition to this, I've always believed that during times of crisis, businesses that survive come out of that period so much stronger. These are the businesses that are able to pivot to deliver compelling value propositions that are related to their core business mission and vision, but are adapted to satisfy the changing current and future demand. So whether it is our manufacturing business, Jaltek, that placed a heavier focus on our medical expertise to assist with the provision of key medical equipment or whether it is Equivital, where we expanded our product ecosystem to include social distancing and other monitoring capabilities, we have tried to adapt to the current situation, but also staying true to who we are and what we want to build in the future.

There is no doubt that these new focus areas for each of our businesses will remain as an addition to our core business, but they will also need to adapt. For example, once the social distancing protocols are relaxed and/or removed, our social distancing devices can become proximity sensors that help to prevent accidents between humans and machinery, on industrial and construction sites around the world.

How has it felt to be an important factor in supporting the fight to combat COVID-19?

This pandemic has been an awful event, unprecedented in the effects it has had on our globalised societies and economies. The global economy will take years to get back to pre-pandemic levels, with statistics such as GDP decline and unemployment numbers showing how badly we are being impacted. The effects of the massive interventions that central banks and governments have had to resort to will be felt for decades by taxpayers and that's just one aspect of the economics picture. Social economics, health economics and behavioural science studies show that there are challenges across every aspect of our lives.

However, I believe there will be benefits as we come out of this crisis as well. Firstly, as a society, we will not take for granted our ability to meet friends, go to the restaurant, see family etc. Secondly, pre pandemic, technology was important but was almost seen as a convenience in certain sectors such as video conferencing, fitness and some retail segments. Now that people have realised its value, the true benefits of technology are being more widely understood. As an example, I can't travel to meet customers and staff but using Microsoft Teams actually allows me to be more in touch with people all around the world, more regularly. Online shopping, streaming services for entertainment, virtual fitness classes, all of these have become the norm and have created what is being called the "stay at home economy". This will hopefully last post pandemic and actually lead to greater efficiencies for us all.

From a personal perspective, it is inspiring to see our businesses being able to assist during this pandemic. We've always maintained that the ability to positively impact people's lives is the greatest success a business can have. We are also very clear that we are not aiming to unfairly profit from this situation which is why we have reduced pricing and margins in a number of areas that means our services are more widely accessible globally.

Providing help runs in the family with your sister, Ekta now providing healthcare support in UK hospitals. Ekta can you tell us more?

When I saw the situation in Italy or Spain and knowing that in the UK we were between 2 and 4 weeks behind, it was a natural reaction to offer help to my medical colleagues. With the government launching a comprehensive medical returner programme, the process was fairly easy. As I haven't practised for a number of years, I was first issued with a license to practise by the GMC. Since then I have undertaken training to work at the Nightingale hospitals and will be further deployed in a North Central London hospital based on clinical need. The acute need was dealt with really well by the NHS planners and government, but there is now a large backlog of normal patient care work that doctors like me, will hopefully help clear quickly. I would like to hope that people who have waited for procedures or appointments are able to be seen quickly and their needs dealt with efficiently.