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24 June


Suntory and Toppan use supercomputer to develop COVID face shield

Bowl-shaped design can be opened and closed for use in bars and restaurants

Photo: Nikkei

/NOVOSTIVL/ Suntory Holdings, famous for its high-end whiskey, and Toppan Printing are taking advantage of data from the world's fastest supercomputer to develop special face shields to protect restaurant- and bar-goers from the coronavirus.

The two Japanese companies are working with the government-backed Riken institute that along with electronics major Fujitsu created the Fugaku supercomputer.

Fugaku, which this year took the title of world's fastest such instrument, has been simulating and evaluating how oral droplets spread through the air in restaurants. Suntory and Toppan have applied the data in developing the plastic face covering.

An experiment conducted by Riken, Suntory and others found that a typical face shield that just covers the mouth only blocks around 30% of droplets, with the rest escaping into the air. Suntory and Toppan have been working on a prototype with a bowl-shaped design running from the chin to the nose that they say blocks the spread of about 70% of droplets. An upper portion similar to goggles covers the eyes.

The design and price of the shield will be finalized after conducting demonstration experiments at bars and restaurants. The companies have not said when any final product will go on sale, but they also plan to make their blueprint available for free so companies and individuals both at home and abroad can utilize it.

Suntory was spurred to embark on the collaboration as a way to aid dining and drinking establishments hit hard by the pandemic.

Kenji Yamada, CEO of Suntory Liquors, told reporters that "bars and restaurants have been severely affected." And while the Japanese government in May lifted a state of emergency aimed at reducing the spread of infections and food service establishments have been reopening, "a difficult business environment" continues, Yamada said.

About 40% of Suntory's sales come from overseas. Restaurants and bars in the U.S. and Europe have the same or tighter coronavirus prevention restrictions than Japan, Yamada said.

Given the growing emphasis globally on environmental sustainability the development team is pledging to ensure that the face shield will be reusable.

The lower portion can be easily adjusted to one side to allow for wear while eating, drinking and conversing in restaurants.

"We pay particular attention to ease of use," said Makoto Arai, an executive officer at Toppan in charge of production.