By GREGORY ZELLER //
If there’s one thing that’s going to bring society together again in the Age of Coronavirus, it’s building a wall.
In fact, a whole bunch of them.
That’s the ironic conclusion drawn by Bridgehampton-based MachWall LLC, which turned directly to science to figure out what the “new normal” would really require, applied what it learned to existing patents and is now way out in front when it comes to communal space solutions.
Behold, the MachWall CONNECT, a “science-informed pandemic response product” that removes safe-reopening barriers by placing actual barriers between desks, restaurant tables, gym equipment and just about any other public-use space or object.
The product – which actually combines three different panels, including a mechanical panel that incorporates state-of-the-art air-purification technologies – is the brainchild of MachWall Director Punit Chugh and the result of four months of investigation and design work, supercharged by the global pandemic.
Chugh – who co-founded the LLC in 2017 with his wife, Anjali Gupta – had already invested heavily in creating and patenting customized wall panels built to accommodate charging stations, data ports and associated wiring. When the realities of the pandemic hit home, inspiration struck again.
“I have a construction business, and come March of this year, we were impacted with COVID-19, and I could see multiple businesses being affected the same way,” Chugh told Innovate LI. “So, an idea crossed my mind: If businesses go back to full functionality, what will be the new normal?”
Not content with best guesses, Chugh – who earned an architectural degree in India, a master’s degree in construction management in Australia and both an MBA and a master’s degree in finance from New York University – circulated a pointed survey among healthcare professionals.
“I felt like there were a lot of popular theories and alternate conspiracy theories about how the virus spreads, and a lot of different people saying ‘this is the best way to address the situation,’” the innovator noted. “I wanted to know – what are the main elements we would actually need to deal with when it comes to COVID-19 in indoor spaces?”
The survey suggested “three main elements that people would have to cater to,” Chugh added: deep cleaning of all interior surfaces, physical barriers and better air-control management, “which was actually the biggest piece.”
The work took on even more urgency when the virus began slowing in places like New York, and businesses began reopening. The rules were clear – starting with social distancing minimums of six feet – and clearly being ignored, according to Chugh.
“With outdoor dining, people were sitting two-and-a-half feet apart, and they were separated by things like planter boxes,” he said. “That was just to create more of a psychological barrier, rather than a functional element that determines whether you’re sitting in a safe place.
“And as soon as people started going indoors,” the entrepreneur added, “the numbers spiked.”
Chugh refutes the notion that he had any kind of clairvoyant vision – “We had a very abstract idea of what we were doing, and need-driven innovation pushed one of our technologies forward” – but the running start four months ago has put MachWall in an envious position now.
“Our solution can fast,” Chugh noted, “because we were working on all this before.”
Cleared for commercial distribution on July 17, MachWall CONNECT – which offers a full menu of outer-construction materials to meet specific needs – is a near-perfect match for the most updated guidelines on Age of Coronavirus indoor safety, combining those patented base panels with a host of high-tech air-purification technologies and other amenities.
Among the bells and whistles: an ultraviolet light/HEPA filtration and purification system that eliminates 99.9 percent of airborne toxins, including viruses; customizable designs that combine opaque walls and scratch-proof, tempered glass; specially treated surfaces that can withstand the harshest and most abrasive cleaners and sanitizers; and changeable layout and floor plans to meet evolving needs.
MachWall CONNECT manufacturing is a multifaceted process, with factories in Germany, Virginia and New York State pitching in. According to Chugh, the partners can comfortably produce and ship 250 customized panels per week and, if pressed, can stretch that to 500.
He figures to be pressed. Chugh, who also owns Bridgehampton-based Aryaman Builders, circulated a national press release after the product went live Friday, kicking off a low-key, media-driven marketing approach; MachWall is also planning a Corporate Social Responsibility program that will see four MachWall CONNECT panels donated to public institutions – think schools and post offices – for every 100 sold.
“The best marketing would be to implement the product in a bunch of different situations, with different end-users,” Chugh noted. “We will push first in our immediate proximity, and then expand.”
The early response from both media and customers has been strong, according to Chugh, though whether demand can overcome the husband and wife’s financial investment – about $150,000 for R&D and market-feasibility studies before launching the LLC in 2017, plus another $250,000 in product development and patent work since then – remains to be seen.
But with MachWall CONNECT checking off so many “new normal” boxes for schools, gyms, coffee shops and a plethora of other private and public spaces, Chugh likes their chances.
“We have been getting a lot of calls and we are taking a lot of orders, and I think the demand will be a lot more,” he said. “This is our solution for the world – a universal panel solution that can retrofit into existing businesses.
“We are confident that, with our panels, indoor spaces can be brought back close to as normal as they were before the shutdown,” Chugh added. “The biggest goal is to get our product into as many places as we can, to help get the whole economy up and running.”
What’s it? Startup design firm stressing high-tech solutions
Brought to you by: Husband-and-wife team Punit Chugh and Anjali Gupta
All in: About $150,000, for initial product R&D and market feasibility studies
Status: Presenting MachWall CONNECT, a cutting-edge solution for indoor safety in the Age of Coronavirus