The news these days is full of stories of local manufacturers pivoting to produce medical supplies needed for the fight against COVID-19. The untold story in Atlantic Canada is the extent of the collaboration between companies, government and academia to produce these goods.
More than 40 businesses and organizations are working together in a coordinated effort to get personal protection equipment, or PPE, into the hands of medical personnel and other essential workers. And they’re succeeding – the gear is now being used in hospitals and elsewhere.
Many of these products must meet the regulatory standards of Health Canada, which makes the speed and efficiency of these groups all the more impressive.
“Many new products will be spawned in our region’s life sciences sector over the next year or two as a result of this turn of events,” said Alastair Trower, the head of business development at Enginuity, the Halifax engineering firm that has been a pillar of the effort. “The level of creativity, innovation, and collaboration between business, academia and government is inspiring.”
The coordinated effort began about a month ago when the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency initiated a phone call between a range of companies and organizations that could help to produce things needed in hospitals. That four-hour conversation led to several companies immediately pivoting to make things they never had before. The private sector members included manufacturers, biotech startups, designers and engineering firms, and they were aided by academics, support organizations and government.
The products they’ve pumped out in the last month include: facemasks and shields; ventilators; intubation shields (the part of a ventilator that reaches into the lungs); gowns; hand sanitizer; and inspection booths.
The Scotia Shield is a reusable face shield designed to address immediate needs in healthcare and other essential services and is the result of Atlantic Canadian innovation and technology companies working together in a collaboration called SpringRescue.
“The Scotia Shield is being produced to help protect essential workers across a wide range of sectors and later, to provide businesses and consumers with accessible and sustainable PPE solutions that will help prevent a relapse of COVID-19 as the economy gradually re-opens.” said Chris Cowper-Smith, President and CEO of Spring Loaded Technology.
Trower said in an interview that, as the projects gathered steam, more and more groups reached out to get involved, and each product required the collaboration of several players.
For example, some face shields began with a design from a team at Dalhousie University, which 3D printed the initial prototype. Once it was approved by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the group had to figure out how to do a large production run. That’s when Bouctouche Bay Industries of New Brunswick came in to do the injection moldings.
Scott Moffitt, the Executive Director of BioNova, the Nova Scotian life sciences association, has been instrumental in working with the various teams to ensure the products meet Health Canada regulatory requirements, said Trower.
The Enginuity business development head estimates he’s had calls in the past month with 100 groups he’s never worked with before, and that he ended up working with about 30 of them. This kind of interaction will help the region’s manufacturing sector after the crisis passes, he said.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what healthcare happens in the next couple of years,” said Trower. “Will it provide a boost for the local manufacturing sector? Is there a mandate to ensure a certain percentage of the supply chain in medical equipment is Atlantic Canadian? That may be the biggest takeaway from all this. “
Enginuity has been updating almost daily its list of the companies and organizations working on these projects. Here is the list as of Monday:
Face masks: NeoCon, Dalhousie University HERC Lab, Ignite Labs, Lisa Drader-Murphy, Lulujo, Halifax Biomedical, Cape Easy Consulting, ACE Machining.
Ventilators: Protocase, 45Drives, NovaResp.
Intubation shields: Dalhousie, Spring Loaded Technology, Ring Rescue.
Face shields: BBI Plastics, DayNite Signs, Spring Loaded Technology, Ring Rescue, Nautel, Dormie Workshop, ACE Machining.
Gowns: Heritage Textiles, Cirrus Garment, Stanfields, Wearwell Garments, Sevaen Workwear, Don Schelew Dry Cleaners.
Hand sanitizer: Authentic Seacoast, Xerox, Acadian Seaplants, Still Fired Distillery, Reito, Nova Scotia Spirit Company, Upstreet Brewing, Cape Breton Beverages, Solid State Pharma, BioVectra.
Inspection booths: Beaumont and Co., JD Composites.
Protection shields: Proax Technologies, Polymershapes.
Enguinity said additional help is being provided by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, IWK Health Centre, ACOA, Nova Scotia Business Inc., BioNova, NSCC, NSCAD, Acadia University, Memorial University, Springboard Atlantic, and the New Brunswick Business Council.