March 26, 2020
By Noel Courage
The federal government and the Ontario government put out an urgent call for the local manufacturing industry to help with the shortage of medical supplies necessary to deal with COVID-19 (see information here). Many Ontario hospitals have publicly requested public donations of personal protective equipment and disinfectants. Ventilators and test kits are also a big need.
In response, companies in Canada retooling at rapid speed. The earliest responders were small companies that rapidly pivoted, such as Dillon’s Distillery in Beamsville, making hand sanitizer. There have been other great local efforts, such as those in Lindsay, Stratford and Saskatoon. Big distillers, such as Corby, then took up the hand sanitizer manufacturing challenge. Diageo donated alcohol to manufacturing partners to make hand sanitizer. Labatt is now retooling beer factories to make up to 50,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.
Canada Goose will make scrubs and gowns. There are also many grassroots efforts by individuals to sew items, which can’t be used by healthcare workers on the front lines, but can be useful, in view of shortages, for community members or healthcare workers not on the front lines.
There have also been responses by automotive parts manufacturers. The automotive industry is a significant part of the Canadian economy, and that industry’s ability to scale and do complex manufacturing may be invaluable. For example, they may be able to manufacture more complex devices, such as ventilators. A Cape Breton company called Protocase, that makes custom electronic cases and metal components, is also making parts for ventilators and other medical devices.
Face shields have been a productive area. InkSmith in Kitchener-Waterloo area is making face shields for healthcare workers. They have called on local residents that already have 3D printers to help produce parts. Array Marketing in Toronto is making a similar effort, retooling to provide face masks, retail barriers and shields. Bauer is making shields in Montreal. Health Canada is doing its party by reviewing medical device applications on an expedited basis. Plastic injection molding companies can also be big difference makers.
How to pay to retool? Funding is available
The federal government is offering cash to Canadian companies that retool operations or expand to produce medical equipment.
Canadian superclusters are going to refocus their strategic innovation fund to prioritize COVID-19 research. As an example, next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), Canada’s advanced manufacturing supercluster, is making government funding is available to develop manufacturers to make supplies for test kits, gloves, gowns, masks and ventilators.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research recently funded additional research projects.
The federal and provincial governments may also provide funding for companies to focus on COVID-19.
Local technology associations and institutions are helping companies identify collaborations and navigate new funding, see for example, the Vector Institute and OBIO. Smaller technology associations, such as the Peterborough/Kawarthas, Innovation Cluster, are also supporting members to pivot toward working on COVID-19 solutions. Check with your local research innovation centre or other similar groups. The funding environment is evolving rapidly.
Pitching in – federally and provincially
The federal government is taking direct proposals. Companies looking to retool should 1) manufacture in Canada or have ready supply chain access, 2) have equipment or facilities that can be rapidly retooled for medical needs, particularly for personal protective equipment (“PPE”) or medical equipment/supplies. PPE include items such as nitrile or vinyl gloves; face shields and masks; gowns, head and foot coverings; disinfectants and sanitizers; and ventilators, and 3) have skilled workers in place1. More information is online here. A short summary of an offer to retool may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to encouraging retooling, the federal and Ontario governments are buyers. Canada’s procurement department is accepting products proposals here. Thornhill Medical in Ontario has a letter of intent from Canada in hand, and is ramping up production of its own portable ventilator unit.
The link to tell the Ontario government what products your business can supply is here. Other provinces are running similar initiatives.
There have been many great retooling initiatives by Canadian companies, and many more to come.
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