Asian countries are transitioning from a price-sensitive market to a quality sensitive market, albeit slowly, says Rahul Uppal, COO, AAF-Daikin, EEMEA, CIS & SAARC countries. Excerpts from the interview he gave to Ranjana Konatt, Features Writer, Climate Control Middle East
Could you give us an overview on the demand for air filtration in India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East? From an end-user perspective, are we as an industry moving towards a more sensitised market? Do end-users understand the urgency of deploying high-efficiency filters and good IAQ?
The pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to promote the value of clean air and air filtration solutions. There is an increasing awareness on the importance of the highest quality air filters and filtration equipment for clean air solutions across Asian countries. People are increasingly looking for global quality filters and equipment to ensure a safe working environment and ecologically friendly solution in all their applications. They have realized that good IAQ improves our quality of life, making us more productive, protecting critical processes and equipment besides improving health and reducing risk. Demand for HEPA filters has increased, as industries and domestic users in India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East now demand good IAQ. This understanding will benefit the consumers and our industry. Overall, the outlook for our industry is positive.
Asian countries are transitioning from a price-sensitive market to a quality-sensitive market, albeit slowly. The main hurdle is the availability of finances, since the world economy has been adversely impacted by COVD-19. However, the economies will get better sooner than later, and hence, we are quite hopeful about the future. In India, demand for clean air solutions with HEPA filters has risen in pharmaceutical and medical sectors and engineering institutions. Embassies and high- and middle-range hotels are looking to retrofit their existing air-handling units (AHUs) with world-class clean air solutions, and this has increased our business opportunities.
Sri Lanka has changed its foreign policy recently and allows the import of only essential commodities. We do not have a manufacturing base in Sri Lanka. We are quite hopeful of getting approval for including our products in the essential category list. In the Middle East, the demand for the highest quality air filters and filtration equipment continues to grow.
What are the connections that can be drawn between active government policies and the HVAC&R industry in India?
Governments across the globe initially imposed strict lockdown policies to save lives. This led to a severe reduction in GDP growth with fear of economies falling into recession. With time, knowledge about the virus and its handling has improved. Most Governments, including in India, have adopted a policy of saving both lives and livelihood. This implies that countries are in the process of opening all economic sectors gradually with strict safety protocols in place.
Health care specialists have realized that health care facilities need to be drastically improved or upgraded and that IAQ is a critical component to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. Private hospitals and facilities have recognized the importance of IAQ, and many have already initiated steps to implement HEPA-based clean air solutions. I am confident that government hospitals and facilities will also upgrade once their financial position improves.
Could you elaborate on how AAF designs HEPA filters to specifically meet the needs of the market in India?
HEPA filters are designed to remove at least 99.97% of 0.3-micron airborne pollutants. The virus COVID-19 is determined to be 0.125 micron in diameter. The virus does not live on its own. Virus particles tend to piggyback on the aerosolized droplet, skin flake or dust particles and move as an aerosol. Aerosols produced by people when they breathe, talk and cough are generally between about 0.7 microns and around 10 microns – completely invisible to the naked eye and easily able to float in the air. The virus can also spread through the air if it is not trapped in the HVAC system, thereby causing infection. In temporary precautionary quarantine or isolation rooms, to isolate the suspected cases where the patients’ exhaled air can contain the virus (of range 160nm), the virus may not travel in the air but can occasionally enclose into larger droplets and move as an aerosol. These aerosols can be arrested by HEPA filters. So, it is necessary to upgrade the air filtration system to HEPA filter at the last stage of filtration in the AHUs.
HEPA filters were initially designed specifically for the unique requirements and challenges of the aseptic pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. They have broad application in cleanrooms and other areas requiring the highest standard of contamination control. HEPA filters do not generate ozone or harmful by-products and are, therefore, environmentally friendly.
What R&D are you able to report?
At AAF Flanders, we are backed by strong R&D centres, where our engineers and scientists are bringing the next generation of high-performance air filtration products and equipment to the market. Our products adhere to international IAQ standard EN 1822 and have India’s first Auto-scan-tested HEPA and ULPA filters. Our industry-grade solutions and systems, such as PurAir and AstroPure, are specially designed to combat the existing COVID-19 situation. The AstroPure 500 is designed specifically to enable a healthcare facility to quickly convert a standard patient room to a negative pressure isolation room with minimum expenditure. The product is versatile and can be used in an Emergency Room, Operation Room, an ICU and even a radiology suite, wherever airborne infection isolation is required. AstroPure can also be utilised as a re-circulating device in outpatient clinics, in waiting areas and other common use areas, where the health status of patients and visitors is unknown.
Among other products, the ceiling-mounted air purifiers with a powerful three-stage filtration system with UV light and a fan have proved to be extremely successful for health care facilities. Another product is a combination of PurAir 350C with an isolation stretcher, which is designed for the protection of health care workers. A feature of the stretcher is that it traps the contaminated air, ensuring that only clean air is released to the outside environment. This effectively contains the virus while allowing medical staff to attend to the patient without exposure. This solution can effectively be used in ambulances, test labs and many other such places, where there is a high risk of medical staff getting infected.
Tell us about the Auto-scan test machine.
AAF-Daikin is proud to be the first Auto-scan-certified HEPA and ULPA filter provider in India. Our manufacturing processes are ISO 9001 certified. Our machines are EN 1822-compliant, and all our products are manufactured in an ISO Class 8 cleanroom environment. We have Auto-scan test machine, which generates an auto-scan test report of all the key specifications of the product as proof of its efficiency. There is no human interference in the generation of the Auto-scan report. All our products must mandatorily undergo the Auto-scan, and only those products that meet the laid down specifications can be shipped. Each printed copy of the test result shows the particle penetration and its accepted indicators on a 3D map, and this helps identify the filter’s performance. All our products are of the highest quality that is consistent with international standards.
What business strategies have you adopted to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic? What is the company doing differently amidst these trying times?
The virus is highly contagious and has quickly spread globally. The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to promote the value of clean air and air filtration solutions. Our business strategy is to bring about greater awareness among people and the government regarding the importance of good IAQ and how good IAQ can improve health and reduce risk. We realize that the world is facing an economic crunch, and most are unable to upgrade their facility to provide a clean IAQ environment due to a lack of finances. To help mitigate this problem, we are offering to resolve the IAQ issues by offering to implement clean air solutions by charging monthly or annually for clean air per square foot for a limited period instead of purchasing the equipment in one go