Canada- and Kootenay-made PPE creates self sufficiency during supply chain shortages and disruptions

Kootenay entrepreneurs pivot and innovate to produce PPE during shortfalls

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Medical doctor wearing neck guard and face shield.

Shade Sails Canada is helping to protect local medical professionals with neck guards, made of a material similar to hospital gowns. — Photo courtesy Shade Sails Canada

At the end of June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadian companies are now producing so much PPE needed in the fight against COVID-19 that Canada is almost self-sufficient in PPE. Trudeau made his comments at a fireside session as part of Collision from Home, the virtual tech summit held in lieu of the Collision conference.

More good news is that McMaster University recently opened the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials (CEPEM). The centre will help Canadian companies—both existing and new ones—meet our country’s need for PPE. But their sights are even higher: “Our vision is to create the next generation of personnel protective equipment to become global leaders,” according to its website.

Close-up picture of bottle of hand sanitizer.

Kootenay-area distilleries, including Fernie Distillers, have been busy making hand sanitizer in an effort to help protect people from COVID-19. — Photo courtesy Fernie Distillers

The team will focus on six areas:

  • designing and developing PPE
  • advanced manufacturing
  • research in functional materials
  • testing and validation
  • creating Canadian standards for PPE
  • making PPE more sustainable for the environment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes masks, gowns, ventilators, sanitizer and other personal protective equipment. According to CEPEM’s director Ravi Selvaganapathy, masks and face shields are ripe for industry disruption.

Four Kootenay COVID pivots

A crisis or a pandemic has a way of getting us to pivot in necessary ways. One pivot we needed to make was how to satisfy the sudden increase in demand for PPE when worldwide supplies were low, demand was high and supply chains were unpredictable or unreliable.

Innovators in the Kootenays stepped up quickly during the early stage of the pandemic. Here are four examples of how our Kootenay entrepreneurs made COVID pivots in their manufacturing capabilities:

Close-up picture of ear protectors.

Wearing a mask all day can leave ears feeling raw and sore. At Record Ridge Denture Clinic in Castlegar, employees have been producing ear protectors via a 3D printer. — Photo courtesy Record Ridge Denture Clinic

  • Record Ridge Denture Clinic in Castlegar produced ear protectors using a 3D printer. The ear protector design allowed frontline workers to secure their face masks in place without having to attach them behind their ears, which can create sores.
  • Shade Sails Canada in Revelstoke stepped up to provide healthcare workers with neck guards. While PPE protects faces and bodies using masks, goggles, face shields and gowns, workers’ necks were left exposed. The new neck guards were added protection from COVID-19.
  • Several Kootenay breweries retooled to create hand sanitizer from alcohol byproducts of the distillation process, including Fernie Distillers in Fernie, Taynton Bay Spirits in Invermere, Bohemian Spirits in Kimberley and Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery in Revelstoke.
  • The Revelstoke Idea Factory, a non-profit organization, also turned to 3D printing to produce reusable face shields.

Canada will be wise to have a secure domestic supply of PPE if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, triggering another global scramble for PPE.

Medical professional wearing face shield.

At the Revelstoke Idea Factory, 3D printers have been put to use creating reusable face shields. — Photo courtesy Revelstoke Idea Factory

Virginia Rasch

Virginia is a writer and copy editor with Koocanusa Publications. She is an avid outdoor recreationist in all seasons and has lived in the Kootenays for 10 years. With degrees in the natural sciences, she has worked as a tour guide, an environmentalist, a writer, and a copy editor of scientific publications. Virginia now brings her passion for everything green to Kootenay Business. View all of Virginia Rasch’s articles

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