9 Dec '11
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
We’ll take a closer look today at Intechno, an innovative start-up from the Urals developing a line of specialized multipurpose suits. Focusing on a range of applications from keeping people afloat and alive in freezing waters to rehabilitating children with cerebral palsy (CP), this is a project to watch.
Word came just days ago about a new development by two-year-old Sverdlovsk regional company Intechno. The young firm has come up with an advanced suit for kids with most debilitating forms of spastic cerebral palsy.
In a unique use of a new Russian-invented material, isolon, the Eva-branded innovation not only helps a child stand upright but is also said to address severe motor impairments associated with CP.
The Eva project is the most recent move to diversify and explore new applications from what started out in 2006 as the Intechno founder’s idea to make next gen clothes to keep a wearer from drowning in cold water. Raftlayer-branded suits for daily wear possessing ‘amphibian’, heat-saving and even shockproof properties—the company’s original product line—cost their owners a reported five-to-six times less than similar life-saving gear in Western Europe and have no domestic competition.
Intechno already has sales of its floatable clothes in a reported 35 Russian cities and is heavily promoting the product for use by government emergency and security services, shipping companies, and oil and gas producers. The emerging Eva line is on sale in Yekaterinburg only; but priced competitively versus both imports and domestic analogs, the developers hope the rehab suits will find their way to medical centers both within and beyond Russia.
Longer term, the company says it wants to develop yet another line of clothing aimed at helping people lose extra weight; the prospective buyers for this product would be Scandinavians.
Set up as a legal entity in 2009, Intechno however has a five-year history of developing its specialized multipurpose suits. Between 2006 and now the innovative isolon-based technology was tightened up, equipment bought and personnel trained.
A resident of a business incubator in the Sverdlovsk regional town of Zarechye, last year Intechno received a $16,500 government grant, obtained a patent for its technology, found its first customers at one of Russia’s sizable international exhibitions, Innoprom, and launched first sales.
Intechno is a family business 70% owned by inventor Sergei Glyadkov and his wife Marina. Their friend and business partner Andrei Blinov holds the remaining 30%. Since its start in September 2010 the company has reportedly had sales of around $470k.
The ‘unsinkable project’
The unique series of suits for work, leisure and health was conceived after in 2006 one of the future design team fell into water during ice-fishing in the north of the Sverdlovsk region. That gave Sergei Glyadkov an idea of making floatable clothes that can be worn every day at leisure or on special duty.
The innovator resourcefully used a new heat- and sound-insulating foamed polyethylene based material, isolon, developed by Udmurtia’s Izhevsk Plastics. The material possesses floatability, heat preservation and regulation, hygroscopicity, and some other useful properties that enable its application in extreme conditions.
International life-saving equipment makers, primarily Norwegian and Finnish, immediately made use of isolon, too. However, what they designed is said to only be able to keep a person afloat for just 30 minutes at a temperature not lower than negative ten degrees Celsius. To protect against water their technology requires the use of isolon plates—an approach that barely lets oxygen through and is therefore not suitable for everyday wear.
In Intechno’s proprietary Raftlayer technology, the multilayer suit is stuffed with ground isolon crumbs, which makes it lightweight and ‘breathable’. Evenly and uniquely distributed crumbs ensure increased floatability; to test it Intechno put some weight on a suit and successfully kept it afloat for several days, the developers say.
Unlike competition that is a mere ‘float’ to prevent drowning, the Intechno product is snug enough to enable wearers to engage in extreme sports or daily heavy-duty operation. Its demi-season option is said to protect against insect bites, too.
Vast markets, competitive prices
With these ‘amphibian’ properties fitting for both on-water and ground activity, and priced at $250 versus $1,100-1,150 for imports, the new Ural suit is in demand by sports and leisure stores that sell fishing and hunting gear in a reported 35 Russian cities from Kaliningrad in the west to Khabarovsk in the Far East. This market is steadily growing in Russia by an estimated 8-9% a year, inFolio Research Group reports.
Much deeper-pocket customers are on their way. According to Mr. Glyadkov, the RF Ministry for Emergencies has tested the suits and generally approved them for use by its units across the country; a final decision is expected to come soon.
A broader market Intechno wants to establish its presence in reportedly includes oil and gas majors, especially those operating in the harsh climatic conditions of Russia’s North and East; construction firms in the vast trans-Polar Circle area; entities run by Russia’s largest nuclear energy company, Rosatom; shipping companies; and some others.
As the isolon technology also makes the Ural suits shockproof the Raftlayer developers hope to market its innovation to Russia’s police or other security services.
After a modest start a year ago with 20-30 suits a month, the firm now makes 200-500 and is expanding to a capacity of 5,000 a month, both in-house and outsourced, to embrace the expected demand.
The Eva cares for kids
The unique isolon properties tested in the Raftlayer products prompted Intechno a year ago to diversify and look for other applications. Thus the Eva suit for kids with spastic cerebral palsy has come about.
It is a blend of a multilayer, isolon-stuffed honeycomb material and pneumatic cells; both fit closely to a child’s muscles and extremities and when air-pressurized, work in concert to help the kid stand upright.
As a result of ‘smart’ compression unevenly applied to variedly address problem body areas, the Eva innovatively controls the signals that the muscles send out to the patient’s brain, helping the child to correctly move arms and legs.
Intechno claims its product thus improves blood supply to the brain and triggers increased activity in impaired areas, augmenting the likelihood of faster rehabilitation for small CP patients as a result.
The Eva is believed to also be a helper to people with broader motor impairments like muscular tonus disorders that stem from birth injuries or car accidents.
The developers have obtained a patent for the suit and are having it officially certified by the RF Ministry of Healthcare.
…and reaches out to tens of thousands of CP cases
Unlike international analogs that reportedly retail here at $900-950 apiece and take “up to an hour to put on,” the Ural product is priced at about $180 and “can be put on in five minutes.” Russian competition that exists is said to be twice the cost of the Eva.
The suit for CP children has hit the market just recently and can only be purchased in Yekaterinburg. Intechno is currently in talks with the RF over prospective government purchases of the Eva as part of a free social package for disabled children, and is also eyeing medical centers both in Russia and abroad.
There’s an estimated 71,500 children under 14 crippled with spastic cerebral palsy in Russia, and unlike the U.S. where the incidence is 1-2 cases per 1,000 newborn babies, in this country it’s between six and 13 per 1,000, according to various estimates.