Putting up barriers — in the right way!

As a specialist in the use of PVC, Harkness Screens was uniquely placed to support the international effort to combat CV19. Here CEO Mark Ashcroft tells CT how his company is lending support globally.


CV19 HAS PLACED HUGE pressure not only on cinemas but also on the various technology companies that support cinemas. One such company is Harkness Screens, which, in the middle of its 90th anniversary year, realised that it was in a unique position to help those in need the best that they can. Rather than close its doors and potentially put staff out of work, the Harkness research and development team promptly developed a product range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with various applications to help those on the frontline. “What I was told quite early on is that no one was really prepared for anything like this,” explains Mark Ashcroft, CEO at Harkness, “Turning on the television, that became abundantly clear. You saw nurses and volunteers at drive-in testing centres with aprons that looked just like bin bags and masks that didn’t have the capability to be reused.”

Ashcroft has been with the company for the past seven years, coming to the screen manufacturer with a wealth of experience in the chemical, party retailing and optical industries. The Lancashire native says he was quick to see how best Harkness could use their expertise. “I contacted our head of R&D, Laurent Espitalier, to see how easy it would be to create various pieces of PPE that would be durable, reusable and still lightweight. Quickly he and the rest of the team had specifications for aprons, barrier screens and face shields available for review. The key to the whole thing is that we were using materials we already had readily available.


“Better still, we have a group of employees extremely well skilled with PVC — and we have been able to keep them in employment throughout this uncertain period. We were able roll out specifications to our sites worldwide and now our staff create PPE worldwide for those that need it.”
Since launching the Harkness Protect line, Harkness Screens’ PPE has been issued widely. It is in use with the Bangalore Police, the Indian Navy, various care homes in the UK as well as at some pop-up hospitals that have been established to cope with the influx of CV19 cases.


Meanwhile in cinemas…
What of Harkness’s core market? Ashcroft explains: “These will have fantastic application in cinemas. Over the past five months or so many cinemagoers will have scarcely been in an environment with more than 20 people, so to go from that to an auditorium is a concern for some. We believe that if our exhibitor customers are looking to make movie-goers as comfortable as possible, we can help.


“Barrier screens can be deployed at any contact points — the concessions stands and ticket booths, even in hallways to separate arriving and departing customers. We are also able to offer our reality capture service to help cinemas plan out the best way to set up a lobby and are currently considering further ways to help the cinema experience feel safer.”


Launched in 2015, reality capture technology allows for a rapid high-definition 3D examination of the built environment of a cinema. By doing this, architects and exhibitors can map out auditoria and public areas and plan how best to use them.


This month, Harkness announced it is also looking into ways to separate seating to allow for social distancing. While plans are under wraps, Ashcroft is excited about an innovation that promises to be scientific, entertaining and cost-effective.


Harkness has kept a keen eye on when cinemas reopen. “We’re aware that there will be a domino effect as a result of CV19,” Ashcroft said, “Not only will every cinema be losing money, there will be some sort of void of new releases that have been pushed back as a result of the pandemic and we are certain that will affect various budgets available to cinemas. This could mean postponement of planned upgrades, which could mean they are unable to purchase new screens and similar. We foresee this until at least the end of 2022 and have come up with solutions to reduce the total cost of ownership for a screen. We have done this through development of four new screens using interfacial technology and can allow for a 50% ownership saving, as well as raising brightness by 40%. Currently, they’re codenamed Go Anywhere, The Black Screen, Screens4Accountants and HTMC.


“Having seen what was happening in China, I knew early on we could optimise our core skills as a screen manufacturer,” Ashcroft said, adding “My colleagues and I want to help those in need as much as possible.



Screens beyond the world of cinema

Harkness’ barrier screens are in demand from bars, restaurants and similar public-facing enterprises and barrier screens can readily be made to any size and adjusted to fit any environment. As lockdowns ease worldwide, Ashcroft believes that the barrier screens will be extremely effective and useful for businesses when they reopen.


“Feedback from various people who have trialled our barrier screens has been positive,” notes Ashcroft. “Due to PVC being so manageable and our staff being so proficient with it as a material, we are able to fill customer’s needs precisely. In addition to these barrier screens are easy to sanitise and durable.


“Our face shields are ANSI certified by world renowned Colt Laboratories and our scientists have modelled airflows to maximise the effectiveness of our barrier screens in helping to prevent the spread of particles.”



Compact+ for simpler transportation

With social distancing set to be enforced for the foreseeable future, Harkness Screens is finding new ways to transport screens to reduce chances of infection. Its Compact+ screens launching this summer are a range of easily shipped products that use a crease free technology. This allows them to be transported in smaller packages via a delivery service, removing the need for a lorry — in turn reducing the carbon footprint of a screen. The new range features Perlux HiWhite technology, the industry’s leading white gain projection screen brand.