Confronting the Pandemic: A Battle Waged on Many Fronts

Toppan is innovating across all its business to improve safety and help the world to navigate the new normal.

In July 2020, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, gave a speech in which he outlined the best way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Not testing alone. Not physical distancing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not masks alone. Do it all,” he said. “Countries that have adopted this comprehensive approach have suppressed transmission and saved lives.”

As a company that is active across multiple businesses from packaging and décor materials to electronics and security solutions, Toppan has been applying a similar across-the-board approach in its efforts to help society live safely with the novel coronavirus.

The impact of the pandemic has affected different sectors of the economy differently. Travel, hospitality and traditional bricks and mortar retail have been hammered, while food delivery, supermarkets, and most online businesses have flourished.

Restaurants and bars were among the businesses that suffered the most. To help this sector, Toppan joined forces with Suntory Group, a top Japanese producer of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, to develop a face mask specifically for restaurant-and-bar use. The two companies drew on the results of a research project that simulated virus droplet infection in various indoor environments including choir practice, taxis and restaurant dining. The research was conducted at the RIKEN Center for Computational Science in Japan, using Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer, which has been in trial use since 2020.

In contrast to a typical face shield, that covers only the mouth and blocks about 30 percent of oral droplets, the Toppan/Suntory design blocks about 70 percent of droplets thanks to a unique bowl-like bulge covering nose, mouth and chin. To facilitate eating and drinking, the lower portion of the mask swivels easily off to one side.

The face shield went on sale in Japan in January 2021 through a website specializing in restaurant supplies. Meanwhile, the design data can be downloaded free of charge from Toppan’s website, meaning that anyone anywhere in the world with access to a 3D printer can print themselves one.

Tourism goes virtual

Inbound tourism to Japan was another sector crushed by the pandemic. In the eight years between 2011 and 2019, a combination of effective marketing and relaxed visa rules drove tourist arrivals to Japan up by five times, from just over 6 million to just under 32 million. From March 2020, international travel bans caused that number to fall off a cliff, with the annual figure for 2020 dropping to a little over 4 million, a level not seen since 1998.

Toppan subsidiary Toppan Travel Service was quick to adapt. The company had previously developed a series of 13 programs under the Profound Tourism brand. These programs provided in-depth insights into many aspects of Japanese culture, from temples, shrines and gardens to arts and crafts, using a combination of interactive digital materials, on-site visits and face-to-face encounters.

In September 2020, six months after inbound tourism to Japan was effectively halted, Toppan migrated two of its Profound Tourism programs online. They were a visit to the World Heritage Toshodaiji Temple in Nara and a tour of a 160-year-old woodblock printing studio in Tokyo. The online tours combine virtual reality simulations, on-site streaming and real-time interaction with experts to give the same sense of immersion in Japanese culture as the real tours did.

Hot button issue

Putting virtual reality to one side, out in the real world the virus lurks everywhere. ATMs, elevator buttons and door panels are all major sources of viral transmission. This has provoked a surge in interest in so-called non-contact human machine interfaces (HMI). By combining an aerial floating display with air-location detection sensors, non-contact HMIs make it possible to “press” an image of a button without having to press a real microbe-covered button at all.

However, aerial floating displays typically suffered from technical problems. The devices were bulky because they had to include an LCD panel that was placed at the diagonal. In addition, there were visibility problems, the aerial image often being dark, blurry and muddled with so-called ghost images.

Toppan successfully solved these issues through two measures. First, it reduced the thickness of the unit by 50 percent by placing the LCD panel, aerial imaging plate and aerial image in vertical alignment. Second, it produced a highly visible display with outstanding luminance by using a proprietary high-transmission TFT display. Having released the technology in sample form in October 2020, Toppan expects to see it adopted not just for ATMs and building security, but for flight and hotel check in and medical device control panels.

The winning card

During the pandemic, notes and coins are among the things that people are keen to touch less. The use of credit and debit cards has skyrocketed in consequence. In June 2020, Toppan announced plans to bolster its production capacity of cards for cashless payments. What makes Toppan’s cards uniquely suitable for these times is the fact that they contain an agent that inhibits bacterial growth by 99 percent and retains its efficacy despite everyday wear and tear. To add to this, in February 2021 Toppan announced an antiviral card that further responds to needs for enhanced hygiene in a wide range of settings.

Toppan is applying its antibacterial and antiviral know-how in other fields as well. In the décor materials business, the company has started producing decorative sheets for construction materials and flooring that suppress 99 percent of viruses and bacteria. These products were certified by the SIAA (Society of International sustaining growth for Antimicrobial Articles) in September 2020.
In October, Toppan also produced food industry packaging that uses printing and coating technologies to add antibacterial and antiviral properties.

These examples show the sheer breadth of Toppan’s activities as it seeks to deliver solutions to living safely with the ongoing threat of COVID-19. As the world gets to grips with the new normal, Toppan is adopting a do-it-all approach as it deploys its printing-based technology know-how to create new social value through innovation.