COVID-19 has unwittingly driven the innovation engine

September 17, 2020
Industry Research

XNode Blog

COVID-19 has unwittingly driven the innovation engine

10 months ago, the world-renowned medical journal, The Lancet, revealed the first case of COVID-19 on December 1, 2019. Since the outbreak, people from various industries have worked together to mitigate the impact through technology and innovation.

Source: Sina

01 | Uniqlo: disrupt the market with a comfortable and washable mask

On June 19, Japanese retail giant Uniqlo began selling "Uniqlo Cool Masks" in its stores in Japan for the first time. At several stores in Ginza, long queues began at 6am and by 10am and the number of people in line had already exceeded 1,000. All the masks sold out in just three hours, and the website was crashed by the rush.


During the pandemic, why did Uniqlo choose to get involved in the mask industry?

First, there is a huge base of mask consumption in Japan. Every spring, pollen from cedar trees and cherry blossoms cause hay fever to affect about a quarter of the population across Japan, further increasing mask demand. In addition, masks are used to prevent PM2.5, protect the throat, avoid social contact, and facilitates travel, etc. For Japanese people, masks have evolved from a medical protective equipment to a broader life necessity.


Second, Uniqlo's core advantage in entering the mask market is its special fabric. Masks were not lacking in Japan during the epidemic period. But as summer temperatures rose, many people started to feel discomfort from wearing the thick, stuffy N95 masks even though they have excellent performance. Uniqlo's "Cool Mask" has three layers of material. The outermost layer is a special sunscreen (UV) material with the function of absorbing ULTRAVIOLET rays. This material is also deliberately made into a very fine mesh, which gives the “Cool Mask” excellent breathability.

Source: JingShuo Japan

The middle layer of Uniqlo's new mask is a high-performance antimicrobial film that blocks 99% of bacteria, pollen particles, and droplets. The innermost layer is the high-tech new material, called "AIRism."

"AIRism", has good moisture absorption and release, high cooling, and ventilation, and has been popular as a cooling material for Uniqlo for the past few years.

Uniqlo's main raw material is provided by Toray, Japan's largest textile company, for developing new textile materials specifically for Uniqlo. AIRism is one of them, and it has another, more understandable name: "breathing fiber”.

Source: ZheJiang News

In addition, during the Coronavirus outbreak, Uniqlo donated 10 million pairs of "AIRism" underwear to medical institutions around the world, so that medical staff can feel a bit more cool and comfortable under their hot protective clothing. Overall, Uniqlo is well on its way to using fabric innovation to create a silver lining.

02 | On a ventilator: Tesla, Dyson and Apple

Since the outbreak, medical institutions and hospitals around the world have been sending out signals: “we want medical equipment, we want ventilators!”.

So, the tech giants are all on board - Tesla, Dyson, Apple, Ford, GM have all joined in on the production of ventilators.

Source: Tencent

Dyson, a ‘black technology’ company, made the switch to develop a portable breathing machine “CoVent Ventilator” in just ten days. Designed specifically for COVID-19 patients, the CoVent Ventilator is portable to the bedside with the option of battery power. It is also a device that can be produced quickly, efficiently, and in large quantities.

Source: Sina

In addition, Flextronics, an Apple contract manufacturer, and Flex, a manufacturer best known for its Macintosh computers, began assembling ventilators in April 2020. Meanwhile, Ford and GE Healthcare jointly announced an emergency production of 50,000 ventilators which can be used without plug-in. Tesla's ventilator shares components with the Model 3 and uses a touch panel from the Model 3 that displays the intake and exhaust of oxygen and carbon dioxide. It also uses the Model 3's computer system, lithium batteries, and on-board pumps.

03 | Boehringer Ingelheim opens second branch of digital lab BI X in Shanghai​

Founded in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world, with about 50,000 employees worldwide working every day to demonstrate value through innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Boehringer Ingelheim's entry into the Chinese market since 1994.

On March 30, 2020, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that BI X, its digital innovation lab, had decided to open its first overseas branch in Shanghai. Their goal? To work with local innovators to accelerate the pace of finding breakthrough treatments for major diseases.

Source: Sina

It is reported that the Shanghai branch of BI X Laboratory will be officially opened in July 2020, and will work closely with Boehringer Ingelheim China headquarters and BI X headquarters in Germany. The project has an initial investment of 3 million euros. In terms of talent development, BI X Lab's innovative talent consists of experts from the agile programming platform, Scrum, data scientists, engineers and user experience designers, along with senior healthcare professionals.

XNode Innovation Insights​

The healthcare industry, although a highly sophisticated one, faces many challenges and is constantly looking for ways to revolutionize. Both R&D and management require more rapid iterations, more accurate population segmentation, and more sophisticated disease management. In an increasingly complex global healthcare environment, companies are tasked with a stratified population with access to different levels of care.

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